The Mental Health Commission has warned that facilities for people with serious mental health issues need to be improved ahead of any second wave of Covid-19 after finding that 31% of the facilities it monitored in the initial surge of the virus had a positive test.
In a Covid-19 review paper published today, the commission said from March to July this year it gathered information on 181 mental health services, comprising 67 in-patient units and 114 unregulated community residences, which altogether care for about 3,900 service users.
It found 28 of 181 services reported confirmed resident cases of Covid-19 in the monitoring period, while 47 services reported confirmed staff cases of Covid-19, meaning 31% of all mental health services monitored reported confirmed resident and/ or staff cases.
There were 17 Covid-19-related deaths in three approved centres.
The research paper said the national testing system was "inconsistent and untimely", with confusion among some services as to which health guidance to follow.
We released a Covid-19 review paper this morning that provides preliminary observations gathered as part of our role in supervising and supporting 181 mental health services to manage and mitigate the virus. The paper focuses on the critical period from March-July 2020. pic.twitter.com/R0Trvwaglt— Mental Health Commission Ireland (@MHCIreland) September 24, 2020
It also said the use of dormitory-style accommodation was a factor in disease progression in a number of the services worst affected by Covid-19, with a more robust regulatory framework needed in the event of any second or subsequent wave of the virus.
One early risk with shared accommodation was the limited ability to isolate residents at the outset of the monitoring period in April. "It was found that not all residents in 57 of the 181 services had single rooms, while residents in 102 services used shared (or cohorted) bathrooms," it said.
The commission said that, at times, the process for mass testing of staff and residents lacked co-ordination and oversight, and appeared to arbitrarily exclude certain services without explanation.
Mental Health Commission chief executive John Farrelly, said improvements were needed.
"The cold, hard truth is that people with serious mental illness are reliant on a fragile mental health service," he said.