Senator Steve Pallett said it was ‘unacceptable’ that more than 20% of the roles within the service were currently vacant. He has called on the Health Department to ‘take responsibility for allowing it to get to this stage’.
His comments came after he tabled a written States question to Health Minister Richard Renouf, who said that 66 out of the service’s 314 posts were unfilled.
Of those 66 vacancies, 18 are currently covered by agency nurses, four by medical-agency staff, with 20 other agency staff, such as social workers, taking up temporary roles.
Deputy Renouf also said that it had cost the government just over £1.9 million in the first nine months of 2021 to provide temporary cover within the service.
He said: ‘There is significant recruitment activity against the vacancies, with 27 roles about to go out to advert and a further 23 posts at more advanced stages of recruitment (ie out to advert, interview or job offered). A revised approach to recruitment campaigns for social workers involves Health and Community Services engaging with Highlands College and its future social-work graduates about working for the service.’
Senator Pallett said: ‘I don’t think the service is in crisis yet, but if it carries on this way it will be. If demand for services increases this winter, and that demand cannot be met, then it will go that way and it is going to be very uncomfortable for everyone.
‘Having over 20% of our posts vacant is unacceptable and is a position we do not want to be in. This has been growing over a period of time and the Health Department needs to take responsibility for allowing it to get to this stage.’
He added: ‘I know services have a small pool to recruit from but it is not good enough. While some agency staff have come in to help out, they do not always give the same personal service and build those relationships with patients over a longer period of time.’
Senator Pallett, who is a former Assistant Health Minister who held responsibility for the Island’s mental-health services, said it was ‘crucial’ that vacancies were filled ‘as quickly as possible’.
‘A lot of our early-intervention services, such as the Listening Lounge, are receiving a high volume of interest and are under stress. They need to be able to refer people on to our specialist services. And to successfully do that we must have the staff in place,’ he said. ‘If you look at the number of vacancies, there has to be questions raised about the way the service is run and the direction it is taking,’ he added.
Senator Pallett also recently criticised a six-month delay to the completion of a dedicated acute mental-health facility at Clinique Pinel, saying the wait was ‘unacceptable’.
Deputy Renouf recently said that the facility was not expected to be completed until 9 September 2022, despite originally having been scheduled for completion at the end of January.