February 18, 2019

Nurses air concerns over asbestos removal

Nurses at a psychiatric hospital have expressed “grave concerns” about HSE plans to remove potentially dangerous asbestos from a ward while staff and patients are still in it.

Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) members said it was “incomprehensible” that the HSE plans to remove asbestos from a hospital ward in Glanmire, Co Cork while 13 patients and staff are still in situ.

They’re also shocked that an agency tasked with safeguarding the public’s health has suggested such a move when the Naval Service has “locked down” two ships after discovering asbestos on board.

The Navy said it won’t let anybody other than members of a specialist clean-up team into the vessels to remove the material.

According to staff, an asbestos removal team was supposed to start work yesterday morning at Unit 3, St Stephen’s Hospital, but didn’t arrive after the protest was mounted.

Psychiatric nurses can’t understand why the HSE wants to do this now, rather than wait until the unit is closed on April 28 for a total overhaul.

The PNA said the protest was organised to highlight “health and safety concerns” about plans to carry out the work on the acute admissions unit for males.

Admissions will cease there on April 14, ahead of the temporary shutdown two weeks later for complete refurbishment.

Nurses claim in the interim patients could be easily moved to another unit around 50 metres away while the work is being undertaken.

The PNA said a report commissioned by the HSE South had confirmed that asbestos is present in ward’s floor, but they also believe it may be present in the walls.

PNA sources said the last time asbestos was removed from wards at the hospital all patients were transferred out of them before the work began.

They are also concerned that other parts of the hospital, which was built in the 1950s, may also be contaminated with the substance.

Fianna Fáil spokesman for health Deputy Billy Kelleher said he thought it ironic that the Naval Service had locked down two ships when the HSE proposed to carry out asbestos removal while patients and staff remained in the ward.

The TD, who lives close to the hospital, said “all patients and staff had to be removed prior to any works being carried out”.

However, the HSE said specialists had classified the asbestos as “very low risk” and they would partition off work areas and seal them to prevent any air transmission to patients and staff.

“The works will be supervised and monitored by an independent accredited specialist company, who will undertake air sampling during all phases of the works,” a HSE spokesman said.

He added that patients wouldn’t be removed during the work.

“The remedial works themselves will be completed while the unit remains operational.

“Similar works have been completed in other occupied acute in-patient settings in Cork in recent years,” the spokesman added.

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Nurses air concerns over asbestos removal

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