Nurses: There will be more tragedies
THE DOWNGRADING of acute mental health services in Co. Wexford is being viewed with serious concern in many quarters, not least by members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA), whose members make up 82 per cent of the staff of St Senan's Hospital.
Staff are not objecting to the closure of the hospital or even to the closure of St Clare's and St Anne's wards, but they are shocked by the time frame, the U-turn on building an acute unit in Wexford, and the alleged lack of consultation with them on the Reconfiguration Plan.
Séamus Murphy, the deputy general secretary of the PNA, has gone so far as to warn that if the closure of these wards goes ahead without acute psychiatric provision being made in Co. Wexford, there will be a repeat of tragedies such as the multiple deaths in Monageer and Clonroche, and individuals in crisis like Sharon Grace, who drowned her children and herself at Kaat's Strand after an unsuccessful attempt to contact a social worker in Ely Hospital for help.
All of these events shocked the Wexford community to its core and focused attention on the need for adequate support services for people in the county who are experiencing severe emotional stress, depression and acute mental illness.
Yet now it is considered a progressive move by the Mental Health Commission and the HSE to have no acute psychiatric service within Co. Wexford for people suffering from an acute mental illness.
Séamus Murphy said he has no doubt that there will be serious and tragic consequences if the arrangements go ahead. 'We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. We have the highest level of suicide. In that context, it is unbelievable what they are proposing,'
The Psychiatric Nurses Association has reacted by bringing the issue to the Labour Court, claiming there was no consultation with nursing staff on the changes, demanding a return to discussions with them and asking for alternatives to be considered, such as the possibility of opening an unused ward at Wexford General Hospital as an acute admissions unit.
The PNA has also written a strong letter to the Mental Health Commission which forced the HSE's hand by directing that St Anne's and St Clare's wards be closed by the end of next month.
In the correspondence, the association notes that the mission statement of the commission is ' to raise to the best international standards the quality of mental health services provided in Ireland and to protect the interests of all people who use [them]'.
However, the opposite seems to be the case, according to the PNA, which pointed out: 'With respect, it now seems to the PNA that you give effect to this policy by ensuring that no service is preferable to a good service that has, unfortunately, to be delivered in buildings not fit for purpose.'
The association told the commission that it has a legal, moral and ethical obligation to explain how the closure of 31 acute admission beds in St Senan's without appropriate alternative community back-up protects the best interests of the people in Co. Wexford who need the service.
The letter demanded the lifting of the 'guillotine' and called on the Commission to take an active interest in shaping an alternative plan to the HSE reconfiguration proposal, which the association believes is 'amateurish and lacks insight'.
'It has little regard for consumers of the service, their families or those delivering the service. Nor is it capable of addressing the potential risks that a stripped-back service would create for the people of Wexford and Waterford, and the GPs attempting to access a comprehensive mental health service,' it said.
The PNA warned the commission that if it presides over the 'destruction' of mental health services in Wexford and Waterford it will lose any moral authority it holds in the eyes of nursing staff and the general population.