Action needed now to restore mental health services in Tipperary, says psychiatrist

Eamonn Wynne

Reporter:

Eamonn Wynne

Email:

ewynne@nationalist.ie

Mental health march

Family members of the late Eric Smith remembered him at the march in Clonmel

The admission by Minister of State Jim Daly that the closure of St. Michael's psychiatric hospital unit in Clonmel six years ago had been a mistake, and claims by HSE management that Clonmel had a good case for the restoration of psychiatric beds were "fine words" but they must be supported by action, a leading psychiatrist has claimed.

Dr. Alan Moore was speaking at a rally and march, organised by the recently-formed Tipperary's Fight for Mental Health Services group, that brought the centre of Clonmel to a standstill.

Over 1,000 protesters gathered at the Main Guard before parading along the Quay and through Irishtown, and past South Tipperary General Hospital before returning through O'Connell Street for a rally at the Main Guard, where they demanded the return of acute psychiatric beds to the county.

Dr. Moore said he had witnessed the heartbreak, hurt, courage and strength of those who he said had spoken "so bravely and passionately" at a public meeting in the Clonmel Park Hotel at the beginning of last month.

At that meeting, several people spoke about the hurt caused after their loved ones had died by suicide.

Dr. Moore said that the recent statements by the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly and HSE officials represented light at the end of the tunnel.

However he added that "having a good case is not enough", saying that there were still challenges ahead and the fight would go on.

He claimed that the closure of St. Michael's in 2012, having been announced the previous year, was a political decision, and not a clinical decision.

He said it was part of an attempt to downgrade South Tipperary General Hospital.

Above - A section of the large attendance at the protest march

Dr. Moore, who was consultant psychiatrist at St. Michael's at the time, said that he and other staff who stood up and objected to its closure were threatened with disciplinary action.

A challenge against the decision to close the unit was taken to the High Court and then the Supreme Court but it eventually went ahead. 

He said that all the warnings about the effects of the closure had come to pass. There was "a dire bed shortage" at St. Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, where people had ended up sleeping on the floor, despite the best efforts of staff.

Dr. Moore said that a small dedicated unit with fifteen beds was needed, and where patients with mental health difficulties could feel safe and recover quickly near their homes. 

This unit could also facilitate visits by family and friends.

Thanking the Minister of State and HSE officials for their support, Dr. Moore added "now we need action".

Paddy O'Donoghue, of Tipperary's Fight for Mental Health Services, said that Saturday June 9 would remembered as the day when Tipperary people marched on the streets to say "enough is enough" of the needless suicides caused by the removal of psychiatric services. 

"We want our services back", he said.

He stated that Tipperary had a population of 161,000 people, but there wasn't one bed in the county for anyone with a mental health issue.

Many people at the rally and march had lost loved ones through suicide, and "we are here to help them through the pain", he said.

Mr. O'Donoghue claimed that many of those suicides wouldn't have happened if the services were still there.

He said that a private room at the ED Department of South Tipp General Hospital should be provided for people who presented with a mental health problem, "and this is something that needs to be done now".

He said that the campaign would continue until the services were restored.

"Let it be today that we look to a future that would be brighter for future generations.

"We will not let the memories of our loved ones lost through suicide be in vain", he added.

Above - Highlighting the need for improved mental health services in Tipperary at the march and rally in Clonmel

Dan Connolly, chairperson of Tipperary's Fight for Mental Health Services, told the gathering that he had lost his 18 year-old son Christopher to suicide ten years ago.

"Suicide rips families apart", he said.

He said the group had heard through the grapevine that the HSE was proposing that mental health assessments would be removed from South Tipp General Hospital and that patients could only be assessed in Kilkenny.

"We want the politicians to go up to the Dail and get our beds back", he said, adding that the pressure would be ramped up.

Maurice Cagney, another member of Tipperary's Fight for Mental Health Services, said there was a hospital fifteen miles out the road in Cashel.

"Why is it not open", he asked.

"That's not right. And why is St. Michael's not open", he also asked.