Alarm at high South Tipperary suicide rate

Fourteen deaths by suicide, in Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary in the past 18 months, have spurred local calls for the Mental Health Commission to immediately investigate the issue.

Fourteen deaths by suicide, in Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary in the past 18 months, have spurred local calls for the Mental Health Commission to immediately investigate the issue.

At the annual Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) conference in Carlow recently, general secretary Des Kavanagh said they had identified 14 people who had died by suicide in that time period, in this particular mental health catchment area: three were in-patients, six died following discharge and the remainder had some contact or involvement with the mental health service.

South Tipperary’s Save our Acute Service (SOAS) committee said they are ‘extremely alarmed by these shocking revelations’, and have become increasingly concerned about the quality of care and safety standards in place for patients from this area requiring inpatient care as part of their treatment. Mr Kavanagh’s recent comments have heightened their concerns, the group said this week.

Mr Kavanagh has sought urgent clarification from junior minister Kathleen Lynch, who has responsibility for mental health, on the number of suicides that occur following premature discharge from care, or refusal of admission to acute psychiatric care.

Although the number of suicides specific to South Tipperary is currently uncertain, SOAS spokesperson Dr Alan Moore told The Nationalist they are aware of suicides that have taken place in the area, of individuals who have received psychiatric care.

“This is an alarming statistic, all we can say is that the figure appears to be very high, and fits in with our own observations and ongoing feedback. This number would sit with our own concerns,” said Dr Moore.

The SOAS committee is an active group of service users, relatives, clinicians, elected representatives and others who frequently receive feedback from people in relation to their mental health service experiences. Some concerns the group have received refer to early discharge of patients from St Luke’s, others relate to difficulty accessing the service.

SOAS committee is calling on the Mental Health Commission to launch an inquiry into the 14 suicides identified by the PNA.

“In the light of this new information about inpatient and other suicides, the Save our Acute Services Committee is demanding to know what action is being taken by the Mental Health Commission, whose remit it is to ensure high standards and good practice, in relation to St Luke’s inpatient psychiatric unit in Kilkenny.

SOAS said that local psychiatric consultants consistently raised safety concerns about transferring inpatients from Tipperary to Kilkenny, and related issues around clinical governance, over a two year period in meetings with HSE management, as well as the Mental Health Commission. They also met Minister Kathleen Lynch in October 2011 where these safety concerns were clearly outlined to her also.

Addressing this issue recently on RTE radio, Minister Kathleen Lynch said she did not accept that people were being prematurely discharged from St Luke’s as such a decision is a clinical one, and that Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary mental health service is one of the best staffed in the country.

She said that a lot of presumptions had been made by the PNA but not very much evidence had been produced. She did confirm that the Mental Health Commission is investigating the inappropriate notification of deaths in the Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary area but was unable to elaborate.

In 2012, St Michael’s acute psychiatric unit in Clonmel closed permanently, and all acute psyciatric care for South Tipperary, Carlow and Kilkenny transferred to St Luke’s Acute Psychiatric Unit in Kilkenny.

“Our Committee campaigned for over two years to retain inpatient psychiatry beds in South Tipperary to allow for a seamless and local provision of care for the most severely unwell. We were consistently assured that a better service for inpatients would be provided in St Luke’s, than by a small local inpatient unit,” said the SOAS.