Many psychiatric patients living in 'unacceptable and inhumane conditions'

The body charged with inspecting the country's psychiatric institutions says patients in a number of centres are still living in "entirely unacceptable and inhumane conditions".

Three mental health hospitals have been ordered to shut their doors to new patients amid warnings today they are no place for the sick.

The units – St Brendan’s, Cabra and St Ita’s, Portrane, both in Dublin, and St Senan’s Enniscorthy, Co Wexford – have been told not to admit any more acutely ill psychiatric patients.

The Mental Health Commission said inspectors had warned they are unfit for human habitation.

Hugh Kane, chief executive of the authority, accused health chiefs of allowing reform ambitions in the sector to slip.

“These three particular hospitals, along with some more, for a long number of years have been highlighted as having extremely poor conditions,” he said.

“It’s unthinkable, it’s very difficult to describe the type of conditions we are speaking about where people who have mental health problems are brought when they are acutely ill. They are not places that would make you better.

“In previous years we made it clear that conditions in some approved centres are entirely unacceptable. We gave these centres the opportunity to improve their conditions.

“The Inspector has noted some individual cases of improvement, but detected no discernible overall improvement. Indeed once again the Inspectorate has reported entirely unacceptable and inhumane conditions in a number of locations.”

Inspectors said some individual units have upped their game but warned there was no discernible overall improvement since concerns were raised.

St Senan’s was told to stop admitting children by the end of the month and stop admissions to two units by February next year. It also said full compliance with rules on seclusion and mechanical body restraints must be met by September.

St Brendan’s was ordered to stop acute admissions by September unless they are from other rehab services.

St Ita’s was told to halt acute admissions by next February with two units shut for good by November this year and two others to be refurbished.

The Commission said there were 2,024 involuntary admissions of patients to psychiatric units last year – a 1% rise. The figure had fallen 6% between 2007 and 2008.

Mr Kane warned more people would be seeking help and mental health supports in the aftermath of the recession.

He added: “The plan notes that ’mental health support services have seen an increase in demand as a direct result of stresses and strains placed on individuals in times of economic turbulence’.

“Yet in a year where it has been reported that 700 staff have left mental health services, and spend on services has reduced by €53m despite promises to increase it by €21m, it is difficult to see how levels of service can be maintained.”

Mr Kane said there were also concerns the Health Service Executive 2010 plan does not show new services can replace institutional care.

He said targets for mental health care were modest and in some cases only a repeat of last year’s ambitions.

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