Mental Health Commission drops court action against Cork psychiatric hospital

The withdrawal of the prosecution follows four specific assurances by the HSE
Mental Health Commission drops court action against Cork psychiatric hospital

The HSE has pledged to include St Stephen’s in the capital plan for the building of a 50-bed mental health unit. File picture: Dan Linehan

The Mental Health Commission (MHC) has withdrawn its prosecution of the HSE’s St Stephen’s psychiatric hospital in Cork following assurances the commission has received from the HSE, but the commission said it should not have required court action to achieve this.

John Farrelly, CEO of the Mental Health Commission, said after the withdrawal of their prosecution of the HSE: “We really welcome the work of the HSE since we initiated the case, but it should not have required a court case.” 

Solicitor for the commission, Zoe Richardson, informed Judge Marian O’Leary at Cork District Court, where the case was adjourned a number of times: “There have been discussions between the commission and the HSE in relation to this case. Further to assurances from the HSE we have agreed to withdraw the summons.” 

Katherine Kelleher, solicitor for the HSE in Cork, confirmed this from the point of view of St Stephen’s Hospital and she thanked the court for the time it had given the matter.

John Farrelly explained afterwards why the Mental Health Commission had withdrawn the legal proceedings, stating that it followed four specific assurances by the HSE.

  • The HSE has agreed to increased oversight and governance so that St Stephen’s psychiatric hospital is in compliance with conditions. 
  • The unit of the hospital at the centre of this case is to be unlocked and a keypad provided which would allow residents more freedom of movement. 
  • The HSE has pledged to include St Stephen’s in the capital plan for the building of a 50-bed mental health unit. 
  • There is to be a multidisciplinary review of the needs and transfer of a patient at the centre of the case.

Commenting on the undertaking in relation to the capital investment plan by the HSE, Mr Farrelly said this was vital as he said Cork was “behind the rest of the country” in terms of capital investment.

Mr Farrelly said the Mental Health Commission did not want to take prosecutions, but he said they would do so if it meant vindicating patients’ rights. But in fairness to the HSE in Cork, he said, they had taken significant steps to mitigate the issues raised in the prosecution.

Case background

When the matter was called before Cork District Court on November 16, HSE solicitor Ms Kelleher asked for the adjournment until now “to facilitate further discussions between the parties.” 

Barrister, Eoghan O’Sullivan, for the Mental Health Commission, previously said: “The conditions of registration are there for the protection of vulnerable people. There are concerns about the suitability of that (emergency) ward for the admission of patients.” 

At the outset, Ms Kelleher said: “The matter is fully contested. My client’s approach is that an exceptionally vulnerable person (is at the centre of the matter).”

Mr O’Sullivan for the MHC said he wished to make it clear that the case was only taken as a matter of last resort and that over a number of years the MHC had some concerns with St Stephen’s Hospital. 

He said they engaged with the hospital but were not satisfied with the response and that conditions were attached to the registration of the hospital – one being that they were not to transfer new patients to the acute ward. This is where the breach allegedly occurred, the MHC barrister said.

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