Clinical director admits HSE has breached its duties over mentally ill prisoner

The judge said: “Maybe I should tell the people of Cork I have to let him out.”
Clinical director admits HSE has breached its duties over mentally ill prisoner

Professor Harry Kennedy (pictured) said the Central Mental Hospital has had two outbreaks of Covid and the facility is unable to admit or discharge (patients. File hoto: Garrett White / Collins

The clinical director of the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) admitted that the HSE is in breach of its statutory obligations by not admitted a mentally ill prisoner whose condition is deteriorating in 24-hour lockup in jail.

There is a finding by a forensic psychiatrist dating back to December 7, 2020, that the prisoner is unfit to plead to assault charges and he needs to be in the CMH.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said that after listening to Professor Harry Kennedy about the prospect of getting William O’Connor into the CMH today that he was in despair. The matter went ahead by video link between the CMH and Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

Prof. Kennedy said: “I very much regret we have not been able to admit William O’Connor.

“We have had two outbreaks (of Covid), formally declared by the Public Health Agency. We are unable to admit or discharge (patients). 40 members of our nursing staff are down with Covid.” 

He added that the CMH was at full capacity and were not legally permitted to exceed capacity. He said William O’Connor’s name was top of the list for admission.

Judge Ó Donnabháin said he did not see the CMH being full as giving them any relief from their statutory obligations.

Prof. Kennedy agreed and said: “You are entirely correct. 

I accept the HSE is in breach of its statutory obligations to this court. The difficulty we have is capacity.

The judge said that he had a problem with continuing to remand O’Connor in custody. 

“I am left with a situation where the legality of what I am doing is on the edge. I am on the margins of what I can legally do,” he said.

Inspector Denis Lynch said that O’Connor represented a danger to the community and that in any dealings gardaí have had with William O’Connor it has taken one sergeant and six garda officers to deal with him.

Prof. Kennedy said: “The only solution I can see is when I can vaccinate all patients. We have not been given a date when we can vaccinate all patients. At this moment I am not in a position to do that.” 

The judge said: “Maybe I should tell the people of Cork I have to let him out.” Prof. Kennedy said: “I am limited by the resources the HSE provides.” 

The judge said: “I am limited by the law.” The judge asked: “Is there nothing can be done for this man in a 24-hour, seven days a week lockdown to get treatment he badly needs?” 

The CMH director said that regrettably he could not say.

The judge said: "This is going nowhere. I am going to have to let this man go at some stage. There is no sense of urgency, there is no sense of reality – housekeeping, Covid, it is then the vaccine. 

Where are we going to go from here? It is despairing. 

"The level of obfuscation – housekeeping, outbreaks, ‘we know we are in breach of statute but we are not going to do anything until we get vaccinated’.” The judge remanded William O’Connor in custody until February 9.

50-year-old William O’Connor of St. John’s Terrace, World’s End, Kinsale, County Cork, was found to be not fit to plead guilty or not guilty to assault charges and a forensic psychiatrist concluded that he needed treatment. William O’Connor came before the court initially on two charges of assault causing harm to prison officers at Cork Prison on Rathmore Road on December 11, 2019.

Today’s hearing was in O’Connor’s absence due to his high level of agitation at previous court appearances by video link from prison when he was escorted by officers in full protective suits.

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