Court battle begins to keep Clonmel psychiatric unit open

Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

High Court proceedings will commence this Friday, April 20, in a final bid to prevent the Health Service Executive (HSE) from closing St. Michael’s acute psychiatric unit in Clonmel. Two years and three months of campaigning and fighting to retain the unit have culminated in two community groups seeking an injunction in the High Court to prevent the HSE and health minister James Reilly from closing the 29-bed unit, and transferring them to Kilkenny under Vision for Change, the HSE’s mental health policy.

After many weeks of various affidavit exchanges and court appearances between both sides, the first full hearing day in the case of the HSE versus the Cashel Hospital Action Committee Ltd and Save our Acute Hospital Committee Ltd will take place before the president of the High Court Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns this Friday.

The community groups are basing their argument to keep the unit open on three separate grounds: that the HSE is in breach of a previous 1996 High Court agreement which set out the services that are to be provided in both Cashel and Clonmel-based hospitals - that acute psychiatric in-patient beds were to be provided in Clonmel; the second is that the HSE is in breach of the Vision for Change policy which says that acute inpatient care could be provided in two locations; and thirdly, the HSE are in breach of fair procedures regarding the manner in which they made the decision to close the unit, without consultation with stakeholders, professionals or service providers.

Chairperson of the Save Our Acute Hospital Services Committee, independent TD Seamus Healy said that they are hopeful that they will be successful but said that it is a pity that the situation could not have been dealt with alternatively.

“We are happy with this early start date but we were effectively pushed into this by the HSE and minister,” he said.

“There was no need for this, we have been very reasonable with the HSE and have made a number of suggestions to sort this out amicably, it is unfortunate that the HSE were not prepared to listen, but that has been a feature from day one,” said Deputy Healy.

Last month the HSE confirmed that the original March 31 closure date could not be adhered to because implementation of alternative community based services was not complete.