Fears of ‘second class’ mental health service as battle to save St Michael’s is lost

Fears are mounting that people from South Tipperary will be left with a second class acute psychiatric service after the battle to save the psychiatric unit at St. Michaels in Clonmel was lost.

Fears are mounting that people from South Tipperary will be left with a second class acute psychiatric service after the battle to save the psychiatric unit at St. Michaels in Clonmel was lost.

The High Court judgement made last Friday which gave the green light to the HSE to cease admissions and transfer the unit to St. Luke’s in Kilkenny signalled the end of the campaign to save the unit which began in January 2010 when the closure announcement was made.

The closure and transfer of the unit has been blasted as wrong and unsafe by the Save Our Acute Hospital Services Committee. It has been condemned by public representatives and a warning that the decision consigns people of South Tipperary to a second class acute mental health service forever has been made.

The decision will force acute patients to go to Kilkenny to avail of a service and make it more difficult for family and friends to visit them given the poor public transport service and the distance involved from Tipperary to Kilkenny.

Pleas were made this week to the government to stop hiding behind the HSE and the court and calls were made for the Minister for Health to step in to prevent the transfer.

The Save our Acute Hospital Services Committee has expressed disappointment at the outcome of its High Court challenge to the closure by the HSE of the acute inpatient psychiatric service for South Tipperary.

“The consequences of this decision will mean the loss of a vital health service to the county and patients will be forced to travel to Kilkenny to avail of a service which should be provided locally in accordance with the Vision for Change Policy,” said Deputy Seamus Healy, chairman of the committee..

The committee said it would consider the legal position further when the written judgement becomes available.

The committee statement said that the attempt to protect the services by legal action was taken with reluctance against the background of intransigence of the Health Service Executive and the failure of the government parties, Fine Gael and Labour, to honour commitments given prior to the last general election, to retain the existing acute services at South Tipperary General Hospital.

The committee said it would be demanding that the proposed new community based services will be fully resourced and provided as promised by the Health Service Executive.

This includes the provision of a purpose built Crisis house and community based teams led by Consultant Psychiatrists and fully staffed by Psychiatric Nurses, Psychologists, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Junior Doctors. The committee thanked the people of South Tipperary for their support and assured them that they will continue to act as a watchdog for the protection and development of the health services in South Tipperary.

Welcoming the decision the HSE said it would, in consultation with the Minister of State, the Department of Health and the Mental Health Commission, finalise plans for the cessation of admissions to St. Michael’s Acute Mental Health Unit in Clonmel and the transfer of acute in-patient mental health services to the Department of Psychiatry, St. Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny.

The HSE said there would be sufficient flexibility around this date to ensure that all the appropriate community based services will be in place before the cessation of any service.

“The priority for the HSE South is to ensure the delivery of a first class mental health service for people in Carlow/Kilkenny and South Tipperary by continuing to develop community and acute services in the region in line with ‘A Vision for Change’,” said the HSE.

Deputy Mattie McGrath said health care was health care and that the government should not be hiding behind the HSE and the courts.

He accused the HSE of ‘bulldozing’ its way to force the closure of the unit and the decision would mean the people of South Tipperary would have to accept a second class acute service from now on.

“Justice has not been done, a wrong decision has been made,” insisted Deputy McGrath who said Ministers Reilly and Noonan and the government should not ‘cop out’ and blame the HSE.

MEP Phil Prendergast said ‘Vision for Change’ went blind when it came to dealing with South Tipperary. Transferring St.Michaels’s beds to Kilkenny would create a bottleneck.

“All the advantages are with Kilkenny and all the disadvantages are with South Tipperary. Nowhere in Vision for Change does it say there cannot be two small units for acute psychiatric patients. The taxpayers in South Tipperary are paying the same as those in Kilkenny and should be entitled to the same level of service,” she said.

MEP Prendergast said it would mean acute patients would be removed from their loved ones when they most needed them because of the distances involved and the poor public transport system.”

“Why Kilkenny ahead of South Tipperary, what role has Minister Phil Hogan played in this, In south Tipperary we elected two independents who promised to save the barracks and St. Michaels and they were able to do nothing,” said the MEP.

Deputy Tom Hayes said he was very disappointed with the decision of the High Court.

“We were never going to get a big unit but a small acute unit in Clonmel would have satisfied every body.It will make it very difficult for families and that is why we opposed it so much,” said Deputy Hayes.

Deputy Hayes said it was ‘silly’ to suggest Deputy Hogan had anything to do with the transfer from South Tipperary to Kilkenny when it was the previous government that had introduced Vision for Change.

Deputy Hayes said that they had received assurances that no transfer would take place until the promised new community services would be in place.

“There is going to be an investment in Clonmel of E20m and the acute services should not be removed until all of that was in place,” said Deputy Hayes.