Plan to move 26 patients in open setting to locked ward ‘appalling’

Plans to transfer patients with acute mental illness from a large open campus outside Cork city to a city-centre locked ward, have been described as “appalling” by the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA).

Under proposals contained in a draft HSE discussion document outlining the future of mental health services in Cork, 26 patients at St Stephen’s Hospital in Glanmire are set to be transferred to the Mercy University Hospital (MUH). The acute beds at St Stephen’s will then be closed.

The HSE argues the move is in keeping with the national health strategy, A Vision for Change and will happen “on a phased basis”.

However, in a joint statement, the PNA and Siptu unions said if the 26 acute beds close in St Stephen’s, any person in crisis will have to wait until a bed becomes available in the St Michael’s unit at MUH.

“This in the context of St Stephen’s operating at 100% capacity in most recent times, and MUH operating above 100% capacity most of the time,” said PNA spokeswoman Anne McGrath.

She said the change would undoubtedly “lead to delays in accessing crisis treatment on an in-patient basis”.

PNA and Siptu said they acknowledged a high standard of care at St Michael’s but the lack of outdoor, open space “has long been an issue for clients at St Michael’s unit at the Mercy Hospital”.

“The doors are locked and clients cannot freely leave the building, which is located in the heart of the city centre. Parking is restricted for staff and visitors. The HSE is now proposing to increase the pressure on demand for beds and space in what is already an overcrowded environment,” Ms McGrath said.

Ms McGrath said it is also anticipated that service users living in the areas of Blarney and Macroom will have to access acute beds in Bantry Hospital if the closure of the beds in St Stephen’s goes ahead, due to overcapacity of current services in the city centre: “This will lead to long journeys and hardship for clients and visitors.”

The HSE said a formal consultation process will be undertaken with key stakeholders, including staff, prior to finalisation of the transformation plan for Cork, “to ensure full engagement of all views and perspectives”.

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