Serious concerns were today raised about the condition of almost a third of the country’s large psychiatric hospitals with many wards battling to keep damp and mould at bay.
The Mental Health Commission said while the standard of most long-stay wards in the state’s 21 main facilities were poor, units in six were particularly worrying.
It said most psychiatric units were sitting on valuable land but patients were forced to live in inappropriate and unacceptable accommodation.
In its annual report the independent body noted a number of older wards have closed but more than 1,100 patients in psychiatric hospitals live in mostly unsuitable buildings.
MHC also hit out at last year’s Health Service Executive’s hiring freeze claiming it had seriously affected mental health services.
“The conditions of most of the long-stay wards in large psychiatric hospitals remained poor,” the report of the Inspector of Mental Health Services 2007 noted.
“Most of these hospitals are sitting on landbanks which represent a rich asset, yet many residents of these hospitals continue to live in inappropriate and unacceptable accommodation,” it said.
The inspectorate raised serious concerns about conditions in St Joseph’s Hospital, Limerick, St Brendan’s, Dublin, St Davnet’s, Monaghan, St Ita’s, Portrane, Dublin and St Loman’s, Mullingar.
Admission units in Navan, Bantry and the Mater Hospital fail to reach an acceptable standard of privacy, space and comfort, the report also said.
“The structural fabric of these hospitals was poor and there was a running battle to keep ahead of damp, mould, falling plaster and peeling paint,” the Inspectorate said.
The report said that to combat these problems patients were moved from one ward to another, while considerable amounts of money is needed to keep these old buildings fit for patients.
Meanwhile Assistant Inspector of Mental Health Services Dr Susan Finnerty said the four-month hiring embargo by the HSE last year badly hit mental health services and that key staff positions have still not been filled.
“The HSE restrictions on recruitment have been particularly difficult for the mental health sector and despite this serious and urgent need, the appointment of key mental health staff, such as occupational therapists and social workers has not happened and in many areas service users are still unable to access basic mental health care,” she said.
As of the end of 2007, there were 330 nursing vacancies, 27 unfilled posts in social work, 23 in psychology and 28 in occupational therapy.
The report claimed the development of a quality mental health service in 2007 was piecemeal and “disappointingly slow”.
“The wait continues for adequately staffed adult and child adolescent community teams, the closure of unsuitable large psychiatric hospitals, the arrival of comprehensive national forensic service and the development of even a minimal service for people with intellectual disability and mental health problems.”
The report also found that there was a significant reduction in the number of people admitted on an involuntary basis to in-patient mental health units.
Last year 2,126 people were treated as involuntary patients, down a quarter on 2005’s figure.
2007 was also the first full year of the implementation of the 2001 Mental Health Act which provides for the patients’ right to an automatic independent review of an involuntary admission.
There were almost 2,250 such reviews last year.
MHC CEO Brid Clarke said: “2007 was a milestone year for mental health services in Ireland. It was the first full year of the implementation of the Mental Health Act 2001 and this has had a significant effect on the delivery of mental health services in Ireland.”