A recent audit by the Psychiatric Nurses' Association has shown there are 700 nursing staff vacancies in mental health services around Ireland.

The PNA said that staff recruitment and retention is now impacting services in every part of the country.

General Secretary of the PNA Peter Hughes said there is a lot of reliance on overtime and agency staff.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said while there are vacancies regularly, the rate of over 13% is "very high".

"What we're seeing here is that we're having closure of services. We've had two closures in the last six months," he said.

Mr Hughes said 11 beds were closed in Cherry Orchard and a further 16 closed in the subacute unit in St James’s Hospital in the last four-to-six weeks.

He said there is no real prospect of either of them opening again.

The Linn Dara service, which deals specifically with children and adolescents, was due to reopen in September, but Mr Hughes said that is now not happening "because of the continued shortage".

Around 25-30% of the current vacancies are being filled by agency staff, he said.

Mr Hughes said the majority of that would be overtime, but this was "not sustainable".

"We also had the recent opening of the National Forensic [Mental Health] Services in Portrane in the last two weeks and 110 beds opened out of 170 and they, at the moment, have 25 vacancies in relation to providing the 110 beds," he said.

Mr Hughes said agency work is attractive because of the flexibility it offers.

He said that the recruitment process within the Health Service Executive "is quite slow" and it can take up to eight months before a nurse starts a job.

Mr Hughes said that training needs to be increased in the long term because a lot of nurses are emigrating and people are also retiring post-pandemic.

He said that the cost-of-living crisis needs to be addressed, particularly in Dublin and large urban areas.

"We probably need to look at subsidising accommodation for nurses," he said.

Mr Hughes said the PNA had suggested that housing for staff be built alongside the new forensic services facility in Portrane.

"We advocated building nursing accommodation on the site. It's a huge site and yet it wasn't taken on board and I don't think it's too late to consider that, but I think there is a need to subsidise accommodation for nurses," he added.

He said the problem is not just the cost of accommodation but also accessible accommodation.

"We have situations where nurses have accepted jobs in Dublin and it could take them six-to-eight weeks to find accommodation and therefore they're commuting long distances," he said.

Mr Hughes said that more needs to be done to encourage nurses to return to Ireland from abroad with financial incentives or subsidised accommodation.

He added that there needs to be more innovative ways to encourage people and in retaining people as well.

"We have to look at everything. I think what's badly needed is a workforce plan nationally, but also regional workforce plans to look at inventive and innovative ways of attracting and retaining nurses," he said.