Mentally ill falling through cracks in system

By David Looby

Published 27/02/2016 | 20:48

Mental health campaigner Anne Foley, from New Ross, with a letter of response from Minister of State Kathleen Lynch.
Mental health campaigner Anne Foley, from New Ross, with a letter of response from Minister of State Kathleen Lynch.

Despite government ministers’ wishes, a psychiatric unit for Wexford General Hospital remains a distant reality for mental health sufferers.

THE lack of a 24/7 psychiatric unit in the county means lives have been put at risk and people going through mental health episodes are forced to wait outside University Hospital Waterford in the early hours of the morning on their own.

Mental health campaigner Anne Foley said: ‘At the moment we have no acute services in the county. We have no admission service at all. If someone having a mental episode needs to be admitted they need to go to Waterford.’

She said people can present at Carn House in Enniscorthy, Summerhill in Wexford, Tara House in Gorey, or Maryville house in New Ross between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and if they are lucky they might be seen at the Department of Psychiatry in Waterford and won’t have to go through the hospital’s busy A&E department.

‘If you happen to be out of hours you have to go through A&E,’ she said.

Ms Foley, from New Ross, attended University Hospital Waterford two years ago twice within the space of two months.

‘On the first occasion the doctor said I looked very distressed but he had no place for me. I was brought in by ambulance at 4 a.m. and my family wasn’t aware that I was in the A&E department. I was left in no man’s land. Luckily for me there was someone there from New Ross who knew me and they drove me home.’

On the second occasion the doctor once again said he could see that Ms Foley looked very distressed and she said she was in a suicidal mood. She was seen and released at 5 a.m.

‘Luckily for me there was a person there from New Ross who knew me. I was told by the doctor that he would put me on a waiting list and that someone would call me the following day but nobody did. I am here to tell the tale today. I’m one of the lucky ones.’

She said An Tearman is a lovely centre which has been built in Enniscorthy for mental health sufferers who need a break.

‘The services are improving slowly but they closed the county’s psychiatric hospital in Enniscorthy, St Senan’s, and they didn’t think too far ahead. They merged Waterford and Wexford together but they didn’t think of the volume of people that would be using what is a 48 bed unit, (ten beds for acute patients and 38 beds in the main part).’

Ms Foley said the lack of an acute psychiatric unit in the county has lead to lives being lost.

‘It’s cropping up increasingly in inquests since they closed St Senan’s. People have nowhere to go. The staff in Waterford are so busy they don’t have the time to talk to you. There was a young chap who was there from Wexford who took his own life recently while in the acute ward.’

Accompanied by two fellow campaigners and Lara Kelly of Mental Health Reform, Ms Foley met with Cllr George Lawlor, representing Minister Brendan Howlin, in September to outline her concerns for mental health patients in the county.

She received a response from Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for mental health, Kathleen Lynch on February 10, who outlined that patients presenting at Wexford General Hospital A&E with mental health issues out of hours are transferred to University Hospital Waterford.

Ms Lynch said there is a counselling service for people suffering from mild psychological difficulties for medical card holders aged 18 or older. There is also the SHIP programme for individuals aged 16 or older who are experiencing suicidal ideation or the impulse to self-harm. She said the government has provided funding to It’s Good to Talk, while outlining support services in the county.

Ms Foley said there are no plans to open an acute psychiatric ward in County Wexford.

‘I have been told on several occasions that it’s not going to happen but it’s something that needs to happen.’

Clinicial Director of Wexford General Hospital, Dr Colm Quigley confirmed that he has not been party to any discussions about a dedicated psychiatric unit at Wexford General Hospital.

Minister of State Paul Kehoe said a psychiatric unit is needed in the county for Wexford people based on the experiences he has heard about from constituents.

He said the Fine Gael and Labour government has increased the mental health budget by 20 per cent in recent years, adding that despite the economic crash, tens of millions of euros have been invested nationally.

Minister Kehoe said: ‘I recognise that there are a huge number of problems in the area. We, in County Wexford, are one of the leaders of the Vision for Change programme. We have excellent day services but we don’t have a small ten bed unit for emergencies. Waterford has been designated the centre of excellence for acute psychiatric services in the South East but I would like to see a unit in County Wexford. I have spoken to Minister Leo Varadkar on this as I would like this facility for people who need acute services. On the grounds of St John’s Hospital we have step down facilities. A lot of people don’t know that and about the independent living there. We want to maintain these services and to enhance them.’

He said the whole area of psychiatric care has changed dramatically in recent years.

‘People used to go to places like St Senan’s and be locked into them for life. I have spoken to family members of people like this.’

He acknowledged that there is a ‘slippage’ in the service provided in the region.

When pressed, Minister Kehoe said there will be no annoucement on a psychiatric unit for the county in the short term.

‘We have to convince the people involved in Vision for Change. I do hear that there is a good service in Waterford but we hear all different types of stories.’

Minister Kehoe added: ‘The next government needs to look at counselling services in the county.’

Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform Brendan Howlin described the lack of an acute psychiatric unit in the county as ‘less than ideal.’

Minister Howlin said: ‘I strongly support the national mental health strategy, Vision for Change and I allocated €35m to that over the five years that I was in governnment. This has allowed community facilities to be developed across the country. The outstanding issue is the requirement to have an acute unit in Wexford if someone is having an acute episode so that they won’t have to go to Waterford or Wicklow which is not ideal. There should be an acute unit at Wexford General Hospital.’

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