Mental health services struggling despite HSE reassurances
Public concern about the adequacy of Wexford's mental health services just won't go away, despite HSE assurances that the county is well-served with facilities available round the clock.
The closure of St. Senan's Psychiatric Hospital three years ago was generally welcomed as a progressive move but the centralising of acute psychiatric services in Waterford University Hospital and Newcastle Hospital, County Wicklow has deprived Wexford of an admissions unit on its own doorstep and the 24-hour service it once enjoyed.
The HSE insists the vast majority of clients are now efficiently treated in a community setting following an €18 million investment in two new mental health day hospitals in Gorey and Wexford town, high support and rehabilitation centres in St. John's Hospital, Enniscorthy and 20 mental health beds in Farnogue nursing unit in the grounds of Wexford General Hospital.
The developments are in line with recommendations in 'A Vision for Change', the expert document on Irish mental health service improvements which was published in 2006, but many people are reporting the presence of gaping holes in the County Wexford service.
Among the complaints are that the SCAN (Suicide Risk Assessment Nurse) service at Wexford General Hospital is only available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; patients in mental distress who are assessed in Wexford A&E as requiring in-patient care must travel to Waterford and go through a second A&E wait in Waterford University Hospital where they are assessed again; suicidal patients are frequently sent home to be monitored by families who feel inadequate to cope; the CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health) service is understaffed; teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 who are self-harming or suicidal are left in limbo with no adolescent SCAN service at any time, no age-appropriate beds at Wexford hospital and no acute admission service within the region along with a lengthy waiting list for follow-up counselling services.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland which represents many nurses in the mental health service locally, said that every mental health centre in County Wexford is currently understaffed and stretched to breaking point and also revealed that there is no consultant cover for holidays or illness.
Wexford's mental health is a priority issue given the continuing disproportionately high rate of suicide in the county and the number of related murder/suicide tragedies that have taken place here.
It is over 10 years since the need for an out-of-hours emergency social work service was highlighted following the unforgettable deaths of Wexford mother Sharon Grace and her two children in April 2005 and now a similar campaign is underway in relation to reported shortcomings in the mental health service, indicating that little has changed in a decade.
The HSE said this week it would like to reassure people that mental health services are available to patients in County Wexford seven days a week, 365 days a year.
That may be the case on paper but the families of patients having a dangerously psychotic episode who must present at A&E in Wexford Hospital before travelling to Waterford only to undergo the same process all over again or the parents of 16 or 17-year olds who have taken an overdose and are sent home in the care of their frightened families after being medically treated, might be forgiven for remaining unconvinced.