Mental hospital ‘should remain in public hands’

ONE of the country’s largest mental hospitals should remain in public ownership, a town council has said.

St Finan’s Hospital in Killarney, Co Kerry, is due to close in 2014. The council has urged the HSE to ensure that the sprawling building and 30 attached acres continue to have a public function.

“It would be deeply disappointing if this very fine building went in private ownership,” said Cllr Michael Gleeson, who asked if officials had had any recent meetings with the HSE on the issue.

Town manager John Breen said that he had met the HSE.

Labour councillor Sean O’Grady said it was vitally important to acquire the St Finan’s lands, whatever the cost.

Community groups have unsuccessfully tried to obtain some of the St Finan’s property. The groups, including the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Irish Wheelchair Association, sought a site for a comprehensive range of services.

The town council also failed to get land for social housing from the property.

Being close to the centre of Killarney, the St Finan’s complex is considered to have huge potential for commercial/tourism type development and the proceeds from its sale are expected to fund alternative accommodation for patients.

However, the HSE is still awaiting funding approval from the Department of Health for three separate units, estimated to cost between €6.5 million and €8m, in the grounds of the former Killarney Isolation Hospital.

Trade unions representing nurses and other staff in St Finan’s are strongly opposed to its closure until alternative accommodation has been provided and recently stressed the urgency of providing funds.

St Finan’s, which overlooks the town from an elevated location near Fitzgerald Stadium, dates to 1849 and has about 40 patients.

At its peak in the late-1950s and early-1960s, it had more than 1,000 patients. Most admissions are now to the psychiatric unit at Kerry General Hospital in Tralee, and the emphasis is very much on treating patients in the community as much as possible.

Over the years, conditions in St Finan’s have been criticised as being unacceptable and unsuitable by the Inspector of Mental Hospitals.

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