The Psychiatric Nurses Association has agreed to attend talks at the Workplace Relations Commission next week in a bid to resolve the dispute over pay and conditions for members.

Following a meeting this afternoon, the union executive agreed to go to the talks to discuss productivity required to secure €5,000 payment for community mental health nurses, which was discontinued for new entrants in 2012.

In the interim, the PNA will continue its work-to-rule but will not escalate its industrial action to an overtime ban, which would have had a severe impact on services for patients.

The executive reiterated its determination to address the issue of incremental credit for nurses who graduated between 2011 and 2015.

The PNA argues that there are currently 600 unfilled vacancies for psychiatric nurses, with the under-staffing set to worsen as a further 400 are due to retire.

The union is seeking measures to recruit more nurses, and to improve conditions so that current employees can be retained.

Issues of concern to the PNA include additional payments for community mental health nurses, incremental credit for student nurses between 2011 and 2015 as well as education, training and overtime rates.

The PNA leadership is considering a proposal from the HSE and the Department of Health which includes provision for community psychiatric nurses recruited since 2012 to receive a payment of over €5,000 in return for some productivity concessions.

The payment was halted for new recruits as part of a public service-wide cull of allowances for new entrants in 2012.

It is understood that working a 9am-5pm Monday to Friday shift in community services is not popular among staff, as they do not receive the premium payments and additional allowances that apply to those in a 24/7 setting such as hospitals.

It is argued that restoration of the €5,000 payment would make working in this area more attractive, and help to address staff shortages.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has approved the €5,000 payment, subject to certain productivity concessions which have not yet been finalised.

The HSE/Department of Health proposals also contain provisions to make temporary staff permanent and improvements in overtime rates.

However, the HSE has stressed that delivery of these proposals is contingent on there being no escalation of industrial action while the process is ongoing.

If a solution is not found to the dispute, the PNA has threatened to escalate its work-to-rule to an overtime ban, which informed management sources say would have a severe impact on mental health services.

Siptu official Kevin Figgis welcomed the department's approval of the €5,000 payment, but said he would reserve his final judgement until the total proposals to address staff shortages have been completed.

It is expected that the PNA will join other unions in campaigning for incremental credit for student nurses whose entitlements were reduced between 2011 and 2015.