A meeting to consider the future of an acute psychiatric unit where pictures emerged of patients lying on the floor is to take place in the next number of weeks.
The Mental Health Commission (MHC), which oversees the registration of inpatient psychiatric facilities, said registration of the 44-bed unit at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) is due to expire next March.
In a statement issued last night, the MHC said a meeting is scheduled for the coming weeks “in relation to whether the centre will be permitted to be reregistered”. For this to happen, “significant improvements and changes” would need to be made.
John Farrelly, MHC chief executive, said it was “an absolutely unacceptable situation” that 54 residents were treated this week in a service registered to care for 44, forcing some patients to sleep in chairs. Pictures seen by the Irish Examiner also show patients lying on the floor.
He said: “The commission has engaged with the HSE at the highest level, organising a meeting with David Walsh, national director, community operations, to discern how the HSE plans to implement effective governance and management in DOP [Department of Psychiatry] Waterford in order to mitigate the issue at hand.”
Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly called on the HSE to urgently respond to the “appalling conditions” in the Waterford unit, which the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) has repeatedly highlighted.
“It is deplorable that patients in the psychiatric unit are sleeping on chairs or on the floor because there are no more beds left,” he said.
“We need to see a rapid response to this issue from the minister for health and officials in the HSE, we can’t have another case where people in the South-East are receiving substandard care compared to other parts of the country.”
Fianna Fáil mental health spokesman James Browne called on minister of state for mental health, Jim Daly, to intervene.
“I have previously sought figures from the HSE of the number of people sleeping on chairs and floors only to be told the HSE doesn’t keep these records,” he said.
Mr Browne said Mr Daly “needs to examine the state of mental health services and facilities serving the south-east — as the Department of Psychiatry is quite clearly at breaking point”.
Kate Killeen-White, chief officer with South East community health care, said she could not defend the situation in Waterford.
She said staff were doing their best to provide safe care to anyone waiting for a bed.
Ms Killeen-White said that they endeavoured at all times to fill rosters and that there were safe staffing levels in the unit.
“The reality is that demand often exceeds supply for our services in the Department of Psychiatry,” said Ms Killeen-White, adding that they do increase staff levels when they are “over-occupied”.
“It is not ideal and it is not the way we wish to deliver services, but as I said demand often exceeds supply and we are required to deliver services and manage in those circumstances,” she said.
She said there were plans in place for an alternative unit in the future.