To say that members of Clonmel Borough Council were disappointed with the failed High Court action preventing the HSE from closing St. Michael’s acute psychiatric unit in Clonmel, would be under-exaggerated.
Meeting for the first time last week since the negative outcome of the court proceedings, Council members reacted with disbelief and at times, anger to the news, some were upset and others did not hold back when it came to criticising the Health Service Executive (HSE).
But the general consensus was that the game is still not up and they are going to continue to lobby ministers and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, as well as local Oireachtas members in the hope that they can salvage the unit, or at the very least, retain a number of acute psychiatric beds in South Tipperary General Hospital.
But insult was added to injury when it emerged that a number of correspondences relating to requests for meetings with Mr. Kenny about St. Michael’s, in advance of the High Court action, had been passed down the line from the Taoiseach’s office.
A letter from Deputy Mattie McGrath to Mr. Kenny, requesting a meeting with him about St. Michael’s was passed onto health minister James Reilly but, due to a ‘very busy schedule’ this was subsequently passed to junior minister for mental health Kathleen Lynch, the person who is ultimately responsible for implementing the Vision for Change policy document which the HSE is citing as justification for closure of the acute unit.
Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG) member Cllr Billy Shoer said that the HSE is ‘an animal unto itself’. “We request to meet the Taoiseach and that was sent to James Reilly, and then it was sent to Kathleen Lynch, when she was not for turning, in relation to St. Michael’s.
“This is a sad day for Clonmel to say that it is losing its psychiatric beds. That [St. Michael’s] is a fabulous hospital and I hope that our three TDs and two senators do something now to maintain these beds,” he said, and putting it up to Labour Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan and Fine Gael Cllr Joe Leahy, he said: “Don’t do a Pontius Pilot and wash your hands of it.”
Cllr Leahy said he believed the Council had made every effort under the rising sun to keep St. Michael’s open but he said dealing with the HSE was difficult. “They have their own agenda and can go from A to Z with no common sense attached. They have had no consideration to the logistics involved for loved ones who are trying to visit people miles and miles away from them.
He said that just like an A&E unit is needed generally, an A&E unit for mental health is essential and St. Michael’s was such a place. “All we wanted was a number of acute beds and to see the way that the HSE makes a decision like this, is absolutely incredible,” he said.
Cllr Gabrielle Egan, who is the secretary of the Save Our Acute Hospital Services Committee (SOAHSC), said that they were all shocked and dismayed to discover that the president of the High Court had actually made and announced his decision one week before it was expected.
‘A hard blow’ was how she referred to it. She said that the Committee is awaiting the written judgement of the case which they expect to have in the next week or two and when they receive this, the legal team will decide where to go from there.
“At the end of the day, the service users don’t know what is happening now,” she said. “We need to know when the community services that are promised will be in place, where will the surplus of people who need acute beds go [if St. Michael’s is closed]? This is a sad day, it is still very emotional and raw especially after all the work put into the campaign,” she said.
Cllr Helena McGee said that she was disgusted with the correspondence that they had seen.
“They just kicked the can down the road from Taoiseach to James Reilly to Kathleen Lynch. But the fight is not lost and we need to insist that the Taoiseach and minister meet us. We have one last shot and we have to show the politicians that we need those beds. I think that we should write again and tell them that we won’t be fobbed off this time, we need to tell them that we need this service because that is our job,” she said passionately.
Mayor Darren Ryan said that he and Senator Denis Landy have already requested a meeting with the Oireachtas members and that he had written to ministers Kathleen Lynch and James Reilly, as well as the Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
“We are not asking for too much, there are beds closed and wards empty in South Tipperary General Hospital and there are areas in there that could be identified as a psychiatric unit and that is the basis of my argument,” he said.