independent

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Fears for future of county mental health services

As closure looms for the acute admissions unit at St. Senan's Hospital, Maria Pepper looks at the planned substitutes and reaction to the moves

IN THE MIDST of fears about the future of acute services at Wexford General Hospital is growing alarm about the apparent downgrading of mental health services in Co. Wexford.

Everyone has known for some time about the impending closure of St Senan's Psychiatric Hospital in Enniscorthy, where facilities are 'no longer fit for purpose' and are out of touch with the modern model of mental health care, which places an emphasis on patients being treated in a community setting rather than being locked up in isolated hospital wards.

This is part of the Department of Health's ' Vision for Change' plan, which is intended to provide improved services to people while ensuring that this is done in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

It was agreed between the HSE and the staff that the closure of St Senan's would only happen after appropriate alternative facilities were put in place in the community. A key part of the agreement was that a new acute psychiatric unit would be built at Wexford General Hospital to compensate for the closure of two acute admission wards in the psychiatric hospital.

If you or a family member were to experience a serious mental health episode today, you would be admitted to St Clare's or St Anne's. If you were in danger, for example, of harming yourself or someone else, you would receive emergency treatment in one of these wards.

An acute admissions unit is like the A&E department of the psychiatric service. It is the refuge of those whose depression, suicidal tendencies or drug-induced psychotic symptoms become so severe that they need treatment and supervision in hospital.

However, as the St Senan's closure plan was developing, the Mental Health Commission visited St Clare's and St Anne's last June and directed that both wards would have to close down by the end of next month.

Other sections of the hospital are to close over a longer period of time as alternative facilities are built by the HSE – Wexford County Council recently granted the health authority planning permission to build two units for St Senan's patients on the grounds of St John's Hospital in Enniscorthy, one for long-stay patients undergoing rehabilitation and another for residents with various mental disabilities.

But no alternative facilities have been provided in Co. Wexford for acute admissions.

The two acute wards are being closed despite an assurance given in the Dáil last October by the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children that no acute wards would be shut down until such time as alternative facilities were provided.

Two months later, he met Wexford Oireachtas members and told them that there was no longer a plan to build an acute psychiatric admissions unit at Wexford General Hospital; instead, acute patients from Co. Wexford would be treated in Waterford Regional Hospital and Newcastle Hospital in Co. Wicklow.

The Newcastle arrangement is for a transition period only, so that people living in north Wexford will eventually have to travel all the way to Waterford Regional, where there is no direct admission to the psychiatric unit. Instead, one must go through the general A&E unit to gain admission to the psychiatric facility.

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