Lynch to visit psychiatric unit earmarked for closure

MENTAL Health Services Minister Kathleen Lynch is to visit “in the coming weeks” a psychiatric unit earmarked for closure by the HSE, amid mounting opposition from doctors.

The HSE confirmed that the 49-bed St Michael’s Acute Mental Health Unit in Clonmel will not be shut this week, as had been feared.

The local Save Our Hospital committee is meeting today to step up its campaign to force the HSE to invest in the unit rather than shut it and move in-patients to alternative facilities.

St Michael’s is still earmarked for closure, but staff welcomed the minister’s remark last week that it will remain open until alternative services such as a day centre, community mental health team, home treatment team and a “crisis house” for short-term psychiatric emergencies are found.

“We acknowledge that St Michael’s won’t be dismantled unless all the community services are put in place,” said consultant psychiatrist Dr Alan Moore.

But they are concerned about the wisdom of planning a crisis house for Clonmel, questioning the effectiveness of such facilities as an alternative for in-patient hospital units.

“We don’t believe the crisis house is a good or safe service. It would probably be at the bottom of our shopping list. It’s not for the acutely mentally ill.”

A crisis house would cost between €1 million and €2m, according to consultant psychiatrist Dr Caitríona Crowe. “It has never been properly costed and it’s not a model we want to adopt here,” she said.

“They’ve been in place in England but they haven’t really worked. It’s certainly not a substitute for acute unit beds.”

The consultants have renewed calls for an outside facilitator to oversee the development of mental health facilities in Tipperary and Carlow-Kilkenny — as recommended by psychiatrist Dr John Hillery in an independent report last year.

The Department of Health confirmed that, following commitments to local Oireachtas members, Ms Lynch would arrange to visit St Michael’s.

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