The overcrowding crisis in the psychiatric unit at Waterford University Hospital is common in health services right across the country, according to the Irish Medical Organisation.
It comes after images emerged of patients sleeping on the floor of the unit as well as in chairs.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said there were 54 patients in the 44 bed unit earlier in the week and warned that ongoing overcrowding is causing “intolerable distress” for patients and staff.
Dr Martin Daly of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP Committee said there is a lack of capacity in mental health services all around the country.
“Psychiatric services have always been the Cinderella of the medical services in the health service,” he said.
“It would appear that psychiatric patients and patients who need mental health service are at the lowest order of priority in the health service.
“What is happening in Waterford is something that is reflected throughout the country. There is a lack of capacity both for inpatient treatment and also in the community.
Meanwhile, the Mental Health Commission has said the situation is “absolutely unacceptable” and confirmed that a meeting will take place in the coming weeks to consider the future of the unit.
Leish Caulfield, chair of the Waterford Branch of the PNA said nurses have staff have been warning about the scale of the problem for years.
“We have to provide a service that is of a standard and at the minute that standard is not being met,” she said.
“This has been an ongoing issue for over two years. This issue of overcapacity and the overreliance on our acute inpatient services has been highlighted over many, many months to senior management, to the HSE and to our governing body.
“This is not something that happened today of yesterday. This has been building.”
She said the situation is “absolutely intolerable” and said it was the main reason PNA nurses decided to enter industrial action 22 months ago.