Institutions ‘use drugs to subdue residents’

LARGE residential institutions are using medication to subdue residents who exhibit challenging behaviour, it has been claimed.

Clinical psychologist with the Brothers of Charity, Dr Brian McClean, said the quality of life for people who live in large residential settings, of which there are 72, is extremely poor and there is a “terrible lack” of activity, respect, dignity and family participation.

The institutions are home to more than 4,200 people with intellectual disabilities.

According to Dr McClean, who has researched the area, people living in such places could almost be classified as homeless, as there is no “hearth or heart or privacy or identity” in settings where 10 or more people share, or where living arrangements are campus-based.

Meanwhile, a report carried out on behalf of the HSE found that one third of residents of large congregated settings had no family contact over a six-month period.

It further found that:

*11% of residents — more than 450 people — had no family contact in more than a year.

* 2,850 people — 73% of residents of institutions — had been living there for more than 15 years.

The report, carried out by Christy Lynch, is to be published shortly. It will recommend the closure of residential settings and a move to the community. Mr Lynch said Ireland is “very late” in coming to this policy.

Dr McClean hit out at bad practice in relation to medication. “Many people are placed on anti-psychotic medications even though they do not have psychotic illnesses.”

They are used, therefore, not for a treatment effect, but for sedative side-effects, he said. “Even worse than the over-use of anti -psychotic medication is the widespread use of anti -anxiety medication. They are only licensed for short-term use, yet many people in large residential settings are on high doses of these medications for many years.”

Dr McClean said Knockamann, a new facility on the grounds of St Ita’s Hospital in Portrane, “flies in the face of all international research” as it continues large group settings.

Noelin Fox of NUIG’s disability law and policy department said a new “mini institution” like Knockamann will replicate many of features of the old model.

Knockamann did, however, move people out of dilapidated wards and was welcomed by campaigners. Eamonn Tierney, chairman of St Joseph’s Association for the Intellectually Disabled, said it was a “big step forward”.

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