June 7, 2010

IRELAND: Over 800 patients in ‘outdated’ psychiatric facilities

DUBLIN, Ireland / The Irish Examiner / Health / Politics / June 7, 2010

Over 800 patients in ‘outdated’ psychiatric facilities

By Jennifer Hough

MORE than 800 mental health patients are still housed in psychiatric hospitals labelled as "Dickensian deplorable and appalling" despite repeated Government promises to shut them down.

John Moloney, Minister For Mental Health

Documents released to the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that some patients have been locked away for over 10 years, with many others needing intensive care for the rest of their lives. The documents also reveal concerns from healthcare professionals that "significant" capital investment is needed in several regions to move people with complex needs into more suitable facilities.

Last January, Minister for Mental Health John Moloney announced "closure plans" had been developed for 13 of the 19 remaining hospitals, branded "outmoded, outdated and grossly unsuitable" in a 2008 report.

He also claimed about €50 million a year will be available over the next three years, from the sale of buildings and land, to reinvest in community mental health facilities.

However, more than a year later, while most of the hospitals report that "reconfiguration" of services is under way, FOI documents reveal there are only six closure plans down on paper, one of which is a short email. The six are: St Brendan’s, Grangegorman,  St Ita’s, Potrane, St Brigid’s, Ardee, St Davnet’s, Monaghan, St Brigid’s, Ballinasloe and St Finan’s, Killarney.

According to the healthcare professionals who wrote one closure plan, some patients’ needs will not be met by relocation to nursing home care. "It will therefore be the responsibility of the mental health services to provide for their future care, quite possibly for the rest of their lives." A closure plan for St Finan’s states those who remain consist of older adults whose mental health requirements are overshadowed by physical frailty.

They have lived in the institution for some time, live in secure accommodation and are difficult to place in less restrictive environments, the document states.

In one secure unit seven women and five men all in their 40s have been living in the hospital for more than five years, and eight of those for more than 10 years.

In 2006, an expert group on mental health policy, called for the closure of St Brigid’s Psychiatric Hospital in Ardee, Co Louth. The closure plan for the hospital warns that although the service is "acutely aware" of the need to transform services, it estimates the cost at €51m. It also highlights the very specific needs of elderly people with a mental illness.

In relation to another hospital, St Senan’s in Co Wexford, Mr Moloney clearly stated a closure plan has been developed, but according to FOI documents, closure of St Senan’s is "dependent on a decision in relation to acute bed provision and capital investment". About 80 patients still remain in the hospital.

The closure plan for St Davnet’s says those who remain and were admitted in the past five years have "complex and challenging needs" and there are no suitable facilities elsewhere. According to the document, a new unit will require a "major capital investment".

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