Experts say mental hospital must close

A PSYCHIATRIC hospital serving a major city is unfit for purpose and should be closed down, experts have warned.

It is the second year in a row that the Mental Health Commission has called for the winding up of St Joseph’s Hospital in Limerick, which is housed in a 187-year-old building first earmarked for closure in 2002.

Two of the four wards were closed last year and the HSE said yesterday that the number of remaining beds would be reduced to 16 by the end of March with the hope of closing completely by the end of the year.

However, a spokesman added that the remaining patients had lived most of their lives in St Joseph’s and their needs were complex.

“Each individual discharge [to suitable alternative accommodation] has to be managed comprehensively and sensitively,” he said.

In its latest inspection report on the hospital, the MHC found deficiencies in staffing, patient care plans and therapeutic services, and said patients were insufficiently informed about their treatment.

The building was not wheelchair-accessible beyond the ground floor; the male lavatories “smelt strongly of urine”, “and the premises did not provide a therapeutic environment, was wholly unsuited to 21st century mental health care and should be closed”.

The report followed an unannounced inspection last August, one of a number of inspections of mental health facilities in recent months and reported on yesterday, that raised concerns about insufficient staffing, inadequate training and old, unsuitable or poorly maintained buildings.

Recommendations were also made for the closure of two of the three wards at St Otteran’s Hospital in Waterford. One had already been earmarked for closure but remained open while the other one had was long overdue for refurbishment and now “must be refurbished or closed”.

Numerous problems were found with facilities in Cork, including the South Lee Mental Health Unit at Cork University Hospital, which required an occupational therapist, had a designated ECT nurse who had not been trained in ECT and was housed in unsuitable accommodation.

“There were insufficient health and social care professionals. No sector team was fully resourced. Administrative staffing was limited. A number of NCHD [junior doctor] posts were unfilled,” the report said. “Overall, the service, with the attendant demands of an inner city acute mental health service, was poorly resourced.”

At St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork, inspectors welcomed the closure of one of the two wards in line with recommendations they made in 2010, but said the remaining ward was “old, unsuitable and required extensive painting”.

Other cases

* Carraig Mor Centre, Shanakiel, Cork: A clinical psychologist and occupational therapist required. Staff untrained in the use of physical restraint. No high observation unit available for the acutely disturbed.

* Department of Psychiatry,Waterford Regional Hospital: “Peeling wallpaper, scruffy furniture, peeling paint, torn and worn floor covering, loose wiring and lack of screening on a number of windows.”

* St Columba’s Day Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin: “The toilet block was damp and smelly and unsuitable for use in a modern health service.”

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