I thank the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Damien English, for coming to the Seanad to address my nursing colleagues' extreme concern about the proposed changes to their working rosters at Cloverhill Prison. These changes, if implemented, will lead to the halving of nursing cover on a nightly basis. My colleagues are extremely worried about the repercussions of this decision on staff welfare and safety and similarly the welfare and safety of prisoners to whom they have a duty of care as professionals registered with An Bord Altranais.
Cloverhill Prison is an extremely volatile working environment. It receives committals from Leinster courts, plus emergency committals from County Donegal to County Kerry where homicide charges are made. It receives all Garda national immigration bureau committals from the airport for deportation. Many of those committed have ingested drugs and require 24-hour observation. A total of 60% of committals from the Bridewell Garda station have drug and alcohol addiction requiring immediate intervention for withdrawal. Prisoners are accepted into the prison throughout the day and night. This situation, therefore, requires 24-hour triage cover within the institution. To suggest otherwise would be irresponsible and asking for trouble. The prisoners who arrive at Cloverhill Prison are of an extremely volatile nature. Many are suffering from underlying physical and mental illnesses, abuse illegal substances and in most cases are addicted, pose a high suicide risk, are extremely vulnerable and have various other problems. Deterioration in health due to these issues and more places an acute demand on the expertise of the nurses and one nurse simply could not meet the needs as outlined in the proposed new roster.
Suicides are an ever present risk within the prison population. To suggest one nurse could attend a suicide attempt and meet the needs demanded by this situation is impractical and reckless. An incident which happened in 2014 was highlighted to me by the nurse concerned who attended the scene. The nurse had 26 years nursing experience, but the scene she attended during that night was something she had never seen before. She described it as a "bloodbath". Her priority and that of her nursing colleague on that night was obviously the prisoner. She vividly remembers the scene in the cell and says that were a similar incident to arise again, one nurse simply could not cope with the pressures. We need two nurses for competent cardiopulmonary resuscitation, CPR. A great deal of CPR is administered in the prison following the taking of an overdose and an attempted suicide. In some cases there are completed suicides.
The nurses' concerns have been consistently highlighted to prison management through their union but to no avail. The responses and lack of acknowledgement of their concerns are extremely worrying. In recent days staff have become aware of rumours that the proposed roster changes will be shelved. If this is the case, it is to be welcomed from all angles. However, I would like to respond to my nursing colleagues and provide certainty for them that from here on, double cover will remain in place, that their safety and welfare, with that of the prisoners, will remain more secure and the cloud of doubt resulting in a fraught atmosphere between staff and management can now lift. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State provided me with that certainty.