Consultants continue fight to keep St. Michael's open

A consultant psychiatrist has called on the HSE to reconsider its decision to close St. Michael's psychiatric unit at South Tipperary General Hospital.

A consultant psychiatrist has called on the HSE to reconsider its decision to close St. Michael's psychiatric unit at South Tipperary General Hospital.

Following confirmation by the HSE this week that the 49 bed unit would close in June, Consultant psychiatrist Alan Moore, approached by The Nationalist, said the plan to close the unit was a bad one. He had profound concerns about patient safety and access of family to patients if the HSE went ahead with their plans to shut down the unit and transfer the beds.

The HSE confirmed that St. Michael's will not close until June.

The beds, which form part of the overall bed complement of STGH, are due to transfer to Kilkenny and Limerick, inflicting a huge blow to the hospital whose range of acute hospital services are under threat because of a reconfiguration process in the south east which has been parked until after the general election.

The HSE confirmed this week that the unit will not close until "the necessary community services are in place. The HSE is confident these services will be in place by June 30".

The HSE said that the 5 per cent cut scheduled for the national mental health budget which was not now taking place would have no effect on the plan to close St. Michaels which was announced last January by Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children John Moloney.

"The proposed closure of St. Michael's Unit in Clonmel is not a cost saving exercise but is part of the HSE's plan to give effect to "A Vision for Change" – the government's strategic plan for the modernisation of community mental health services and the replacement of old institutional services. Aside from a proportionate transfer of a percentage of the resources required to run St. Michael's Unit to the HSE West to provide services for residents of North Tipperary, the remaining resources will be redeployed to fund the expansion of a modern community based mental health service," stated the HSE.

The proposed closure of the unit has been fiercely opposed by consultants, GPs and elected representatives and the announcement was met with outrage last January.

This week Alan Moore said in his view it was a bad plan to close the unit as it carried significant safety risks and he called on the HSE to reconsider the plan.

He said he and other clinicians had called for option appraisals to be carried out. He understood they had not been carried out.

He wanted the HSE to give strong consideration to a more measured approach.

Dr Moore said that he and colleagues fully anticipated reduced requirements for reduced numbers and he felt that a phased reduction in bed numbers could be implemented and constantly reviewed as the bed numbers were reduced.

"The idea of sending acutely ill patients to a remote unit in Kilkenny has not been tried and tested elsewhere. I would have serious concerns about safety and access," he said.

He said that the proposed alternative community services to St Michaels would be very unlikely to be able to replace the need for an in patient unit.

"Many patients would be directed to Kilkenny. We cannot treat all of the acute patients in the community even with the alternative proposals in place," he said.

Senator Phil Prendergast, who raised the issue in the Senate last week, said acute psychiatric beds had to remain in South Tipperary.

"The forty nine psychiatric beds which make up part of the bed total at South Tipperary General Hospital are working to full capacity at the moment," she said.

She said the Vision for Change document the HSE were going on never envisaged a situation where there would be no acute psychiatric beds in South Tipperary but the HSE were using it as a tool to cut services.