Mental health patients lacking key healthcare

The Mental Health Commission has said it is utterly unacceptable and a breach of human rights that people with severe mental illness are being denied essential healthcare services which could prolong their lives.

The commission’s inspector of mental health services Dr Susan Finnerty pointed out that: “People with a serious mental illness will typically die between 15 and 20 years earlier than those without, yet interventions which could prevent their physical illnesses are not being carried out.”

She reviewed the physical healthcare and monitoring for 100 residents in 10 mental health in-patient continuing care centres. 

She said most of those surveyed were “vulnerable, elderly, often with poor communication abilities, with a high risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiac disease” and were dependent on healthcare staff.

Metabolic syndrome may be diagnosed if there are three or more of: A waist circumference of more than 37in for men or 31.5in for women; high fat levels in the blood and low ‘good’ cholesterol; high blood pressure; an inability to control blood sugar levels; an increased risk of developing blood clots; a tendency to develop inflammation.

Yet in Dr Finnerty’s sample less than half were having their weight monitored, a quarter were having their BMI checked and just 9% had their waist circumference monitored. 

Cardiovascular examinations were not being carried out on 20%, despite 42% having one or more symptoms of metabolic disease.

“It is utterly unacceptable and a breach of human rights that access to essential healthcare services such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, dietetics and seating assessments are denied to people with serious mental illness,” said Dr Finnerty.

“As a matter of urgency, the HSE must provide equitable access to these areas of healthcare and the inspectorate team will monitor this closely.

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