The decision of the Health Service Executive to cease admissions to St. Michaels acute psychiatric unit in Clonmel on Tuesday and close the unit this month has been slammed as unjustified.
After a two and a half year battle to save the unit, the HSE ceased admissions to the acute unit on June 5 and stated their intention to close the unit this month with South Tipperary to be covered by St. Lukes in Kilkenny for acute psychiatric admissions and by a range of new community based services.
In making the St. Michaels announcement, the HSE also stated that the long awaited closure of St. Lukes psychiatric hospital in Clonmel will also take place this month.
The move to cease admissions to St. Michaels was described as a ‘body blow’ by the Save Our Services Hospital Action Committee. The committee, which led the campaign to save the unit, highlighted huge safety concerns regarding the assessment and transport of South Tipperary acute psychiatric patients who will now have to be accommodated in Kilkenny.
The committee are now demanding a moratorium on the closure decision of St. Michaels and have called for the direct intervention of Health Minister Reilly to review their safety and other concerns.
Members of the committee warned this week that there will be no dedicated place of safety to assess and hold acutely ill patients in South Tipperary and said there was intense concern about the capacity of ambulance, gardai and nurse escorts to accompany acutely ill patients from South Tipperary to Kilkenny when admission is required.
The committee also raised issues regarding the capacity of the Kilkenny unit to accommodate up to 29 extra patients. The committee also expressed concerns about the capacity of the new community teams and day hospitals to provide a ‘robust’ alternative to admission for acutely unwell patients and point to on going deficits in team staffing when compared to the promised Vision for Change model.
The committee reiterated their long standing objections to the closure of St. Michaels.
”The closure of St. Michaels will disadvantage the most severely unwell patients and their families who will become dislocated both from their loved ones and also from their community teams. Both continuity of care, and family visits to persons with acute psychiatric illness are key to a speedy recovery and both will be greatly reduced by this move,” warned committee member and former consultant psychiatrist Dr. Alan Moore.
The Chairman of the committee Seamus Healy said it was all about reducing costs for the HSE.
“This move to Kilkenny is totally at odds with the Vision for Change policy of providing treatment for people close to their home in the local communities so they would have the support of their family and relatives,”
The committee chairman said there would not be enough space at St. Lukes for the South Tipperary patients meaning treatment required would not be available or that there would be a delay in providing the required treatment
The committee statement came in response to a decision by the HSE to release a press statement last Friday in which they outlined ‘the final phase’ of the major change programme underway in mental health services in South Tipperary, Carlow and Kilkenny.
The HSE said significant progress had already been achieved including the continued move away from the old model of institutional care and the separation of North and South Tipperary acute inpatient mental health services and development of appropriate day services in South Tipperary.
The HSE said admissions to St. Michaels unit would cease on June 5 and the unit would be closed on a phased basis over a four week period. Acute inpatient services will transfer to St. Lukes and 21 staff assigned to St. Michaels until will be redeployed to work at a crisis/respite house, a new community nursing unit and the community mental health teams.
The HSE stated that once admissions cease the crisis/respite house (Edel Quinn House) will become operational with nine nursing staff redeployed from St. Michaels.
Heywood Lodge Community Nursing Unit has been registered as an approved centre and residents from St. Lukes in Clonmel have now transferred to this unit.
The remaining residents in St. Teresa’s Unit at St Lukes will transfer to a newly built twelve bed high support hostel (rehabilitation unit ) in Clonmel in June and staff in St. Teresa’s will be redeployed.
Following the transfer, St. Lukes in Clonmel will close in line with the recommendation of the Mental Health Commission.
“This is the cumulation of five years work and we are now in the position to provide a comprehensive range of community based services to people enabling them to remain in their own home and community to the greatest extent possible. This should significantly improve peoples care and quality of life, supporting them to live independently and avoid admission to hospital if possible,” said Pat Healy Regional Director of Operations of the HSE South.