Cyprus Mail
Cyprus Health

Psych ward nurses go on strike fearing prisoner violence

Andreas Andreou, head of the psychiatric nurses’ union

THE psychiatric nurses’ union walked out on Thursday and threatened to remove staff seconded to the central prisons unless the safety of members dealing with convicts at Athalassa hospital is guaranteed.

“The law clearly states every prisoner should be accompanied to the hospital and we will examine the possibility of taking the seven nurses stationed at the central prisons away,” Andreas Andreou, head of the psychiatric nurses’ union told the Cyprus Mail during a work stoppage at the mental institution in Athalassa.

This was a reaction to a violent incident on Wednesday night, the second in as many months, in which a convict attacked and injured three of the nursing staff and two policemen who were called in to help.

“In some cases they send four wardens to accompany a convict, only to leave them here and go,” he said, adding that following the last work stoppage in July after a similar incident, things had come to a head. The matter needed to be sorted out as the government had not kept its part of the bargain in what had been agreed among stakeholders.

“After the incident in July, we held a meeting with the ministers of justice and health where it was agreed that if a psychiatrist suggested a prisoner needed to be accompanied, the prison would send a warden to keep watch over him while being treated,” explained Andreou. “Before this was agreed, the prison service would only send an escort if there were four or more convicts being treated at the same time.”

Andreou said his members had voiced reservations with the new system, but said they would give it a try, something they came to regret following Wednesday’s incident.

“On Sunday, when a prisoner was sent for treatment, having seen the doctor’s notes, I called the prison and asked for an escort only to be told by the warden in charge that instructions had been given from the governor not to send any wardens.”

“On Wednesday, when I was informed the patient started behaving in an aggressive, violent fashion towards both the staff and other patients, I called Latsia police station that sent three officers down. I also attended the scene with two other nurses.”

Andreou said the patient initially calmed down and seemed to be willing to cooperate, before resorting to violent and abusive behaviour again.

“He started throwing objects around, kicking and punching. Three nurses were injured, as were two policemen.”

Andreou said Thursday’s work stoppage was the first measure his union took in order to get the law to be implemented with more measures to follow.

Justice minister Ionas Nicolaou avoided going into “the precise facts which have played out because it is a matter for which a report is expected to fully inform on the matter.”

“From the first moment that concerns arose around matters of the nurses’ security in the Athalassa psychiatric wing where prisoners are being treated, a meeting was called and chaired by the health minister where all the problems were discussed and decisions taken.”

According to Nicolaou, detailed procedures were worked out at the meeting to cover every case of prisoners being transferred to the area of the psychiatric facility.

“What I await, is to be fully informed and to see what has been done in this case, despite the fact that to my knowledge, the procedures that were established as part of the meeting, had been fulfilled,” he concluded.

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