Minister criticised for closing psychiatric beds

The Government and junior minister Kathleen Lynch were accused of prioritising “political expediency” over the needs of mental health patients as they were lambasted in the Seanad for shutting acute psychiatric beds in counties Galway and Cork.

Busloads of protestors from the west travelled to Leinster House yesterday to voice their opposition to HSE plans to close down acute psychiatric beds at St Brigid’s Hospital in Ballinasloe. Just 24 hours earlier, they had forcibly prevented workers from transporting five beds from the psychiatric unit there.

Dozens of protestors maintained a vigil outside the Ballinasloe facility again yesterday morning.

In Cork, where the HSE is planning the closure of 26 acute beds in Glanmire, psychiatric nurses have warned doing so without having adequate community services in place will put patients who are suicidal or psychotic at risk.

The HSE is proposing to close all 26 acute beds at St Stephen’s Hospital in Glanmire by next September, with plans to close nine in the interim.

Patients in need of urgent mental health care will instead be referred to St Michael’s, a 50-bed acute unit in the Mercy University Hospital in Cork City.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association said there is already a waiting list to get into St Michael’s.

Fianna Fáil senator Marc McSharry said the closure of the Ballinasloe acute unit and the transfer of beds to Galway and Roscommon was an attempt to “placate” voters in Roscommon for the closure of their emergency department. The decision to close St Brigid’s was based “on a flawed evaluation policy” and “political expediency” he said.

Fine Gael senator Michael Mullins questioned how the Ballinasloe unit, which received a €3m upgrade and is on an ample site, could be closed so that patients could travel a longer distance “to a cramped site which was difficult to access and had no parking”.

Both he and fellow Fine Gael senator, Fidelma Healy-Eames, called for a stay on the closure so that the scoring system which underpinned the system could be reviewed as there was no public confidence in it.

But Kathleen Lynch, minister for mental health, refused to bow to the senators and dismissed their concerns as “scaremongering”.

She said the future of mental health was in the community, with institutions a thing of the past.

She said patients would benefit from the closure of beds at Tohermore in Tuam, St Brigid’s in Ballinasloe and Carrig Mór and St Stephen’s in Cork, and that these changes “would liberate the service user”.

Ms Lynch described the atmosphere at the mental health unit at University Hospital Galway as “calm” and claimed it had sufficient bed capacity to cope with the changes.

“Nothing is happening in Co Galway that isn’t happening elsewhere,” she said.

The HSE is also planning to close the 39-bed Carrig Mór psychiatric intensive care unit in Shanakiel, Cork City, and transfer patients to St Stephen’s in Glanmire.

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