Cork mental health unit ‘needs massive investment’

The unsuitability of the acute mental health unit at Mercy University Hospital (MUH) for dementia patients and the need for an acute hospital on Cork City’s northside were among issues raised at the launch of a series of healthcare documents by Sinn Féin.

The documents — ‘Investing in Mercy University Hospital’, ‘Investing in Cork University Hospital’, and ‘Home Help and Care at Home’ — are intended as “lobbying tools” to “strengthen the case for serious investment in Cork hospitals and in home care in Cork”, according to Sinn Féin TD for Cork South Central Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

They contain, inter alia, details of capital investment, agency spend, patient waiting times, theatre space, and operating budgets — information which is not new but which has been pulled together in individual publications.

One audience member familiar with St Michael’s, the acute mental health unit at MUH, said she was disappointed it was not mentioned in the document. “The rhetoric of concern for mental health is there, but there is nothing that gives me confidence that you have really thought about it,” she said.

She said St Michael’s unit “needs massive capital investment”, and that while staff do the best they can, “it is the most unsuitable place for an older adult with dementia, or any other kind of cognitive impairment, who has behavioural or emotional symptoms of dementia”. Yet for anyone in the catchment area who needed a period of acute care, it was the only facility available, she said.

Another speaker raised the issue of the absence of an acute hospital on Cork City’s northside since the closure in 1987 of the North Infirmary Hospital. He asked Mr Ó Laoghaire where he believed a new acute hospital for the city — mooted for a number of years — should be.

Mr Ó Laoghaire said he “didn’t hold a position on the geography yet” but it was a discussion he and his colleagues needed to have among themselves and with the wider public. There was also criticism from the floor of the urgent care centre on the campus of the former St Mary’s orthopaedic hospital in Gurranabraher.

While the speaker said the idea was a good one, in reality, many who attended ended up having to subsequently attend CUH for follow-up treatment.

“All it is really is a unit that confirms the existence of an injury. If you have a fracture they’ll put a soft cast on and refer you to the fracture clinic. You could be a month waiting for a follow-up appointment.

“Part of the reason, in my opinion, that there is poor uptake of the service, is because people are referred on. People feel they might as well go straight to CUH.”

The launch of the documents are against a backdrop of new figures which show the number of people awaiting procedures has exceeded 687,000 for the first time — prompting Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher to warn that access to non-routine procedures and diagnostics could not be guaranteed. 

Mr Kelleher also expressed alarm at figures showing that so far this year, 5,880 people aged over 75 have experienced a wait time of more than 24 hours in an Emergency Department.

The HSE’s Service Plan for 2017 set a target that all attendees aged 75 and over at ED would be discharged or admitted within 24 hours of registration.


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