Government to close outdated psychiatric units

PATIENTS staying in outdated facilities will be living in new, community-based settings in three years’ time after the Government promised to close down 15 Victorian-era institutions.

Minister with responsibility for mental health, John Moloney, updating the Government’s Vision for Change strategy which began four years ago and which has been consistently criticised for the slow rate of implementation, said more would be done in the coming years to bolster services across the country.

The closure of the hospitals and the transfer of patients will be paid for by funding of €50 million a year over the next three years from the sale of buildings and land.

However, the HSE admitted that it would be liable for any shortfall from the expected €50m in sales of property due to falling prices.

Mr Moloney stressed the transfer of patients to community facilities was not totally dependent on the sale of assets.

Contracts for new facilities in Clonmel and Letterkenny have been signed in recent weeks, while the minister said tackling issues regarding St Ita’s in Portrane and the development of a new facility in Mullingar were his “first priorities” this year. In addition, a new mental health awareness programme entitled Seachange, aimed at de-stigmatising mental health issues, will be unveiled in April.

The newly appointed assistant national director of Mental Health Services in the HSE, Martin Rogan, admitted “reconfiguring resources” and a move to facilities catering for larger catchment areas would need to be utilised to increase the levels of services available to patients. Brian Gilroy, head of estates within the HSE, said €140m had been spent on mental health infrastructure since 2005, while a contract will be signed in May for an acute mental health facility in Beaumont in Dublin, and another facility in Grangegorman is expected to go to tender in the next two months.

Mr Gilroy said that while the HSE would be liable for any funding shortfall, should sale of properties fail to net the required sum, €15m had already been raised towards the €50m needed for this year, while other costs such as construction costs had fallen.

The number of psychiatric nurses has also fallen, something Mr Rogan described as a challenge, and he said discussions would need to continue regarding the transfer of services to community-based facilities and with the current public sector moratorium on recruitment. Mr Moloney said he had two sites in mind as a possible replacement for the Central Mental Hospital site in Dundrum, and that it would be decided following consultation with the families and carers of patients.

However, he said the entire Dundrum site would need to be sold for that plan to proceed.

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