Half of all unexplained deaths in community mental health centres do not undergo adequate investigations into whether system flaws contributed to the tragedies.
The finding, which follows claims that people are needlessly dying by suicide after being sent home early by overstretched services, has been made by two HSE audits into the sector.
Documents obtained by Irishhealth.com show that despite HSE and Government insistence there are no problems in the service, the HSE’s own audit team found serious shortcomings — lending further weight to staff concerns vulnerable people’s lives are being put at risk.
The first audit, which took place between October 2013 and January this year, focused on community mental health services and found that 10 out of 21 deaths between 2010 and 2011 were not adequately investigated or reviewed for potential service flaws.
The audit said just one in every four of the cases examined fully complied with legislation and with HSE rules to notify statutory agencies of an unexplained death. Information supplied to the audit team was also criticised.
Of the reviews which took place, the assessors said there was little evidence of checks on whether the quality of service contributed to the death.
A separate audit, which also took place last year, examined 12 deaths in approved mental health centres between 2010 and 2011. While this review did not find explicit problems relating to the quality of care to those who died, it said there was a repeated failure to investigate if service standards were a contributory factor.
As a result of the audit concerns, the HSE introduced 18 recommendations for improving investigations in response to deaths in mental health centres.
The audits were concluded months before minister of state for mental health Kathleen Lynch rejected frontline medics’ concerns that service shortages are putting patient lives in jeopardy.
On Sunday, RTÉ Radio’s This Week obtained correspondence showing nine consultant psychiatrists warned Ms Lynch they have no confidence in the service as it is “unsafe”, following nine patient deaths in Carlow, Kilkenny, and South Tipperary between 2011 and 2013.
Similar concerns were also raised by the Psychiatric Nurses Association in April, with its general secretary, Des Kavanagh, claiming the organisation is aware of 14 suicides by people who were turned away by the service or sent home early in the past 18 months.
However, despite the claims, Ms Lynch rejected calls for an urgent review and said she has been assured by the HSE there is no cause for concern.
Meanwhile, responding to wider concerns over community mental health services, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil yesterday that the “treatment of residents in 24-hour supervised residences has improved since 2005”.
He added that, since 2012, the Government has allocated an extra €90m to the service.
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