Mental health inspectorate to review patient safety following series of deaths by suicide

Psychiatric nurses claim deaths linked to deficient mental health services

Des Kavanagh, general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, has raised concerns that patients are being discharged prematurely

Des Kavanagh, general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, has raised concerns that patients are being discharged prematurely

Thu, Apr 24, 2014, 01:01

The State’s mental health watchdog is carrying out a review into the safety of patients accessing psychiatric services following the deaths of a number of patients.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association has claimed that at least 14 patients who were in contact with mental health services in the Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary area have died by suicide.

The association’s general secretary, Des Kavanagh, has raised concerns that patients are being discharged prematurely or waiting to be admitted into care due to a lack of beds.

Of the 14 deaths cited by the association, three died while they were inpatients, six died following discharge and the remainder had some contact with the mental health services.

The Mental Health Commission has said it is an “oversimplification” to link so many deaths to early discharge or deficiencies in the services.

Commission chairman John Saunders said at the weekend that deaths by suicide were “highly complex” and an initial examination of the numbers did not show up any specific trend that suggested early discharges or late admissions were factors.

The Inspectorate for Mental Health Services – which forms part of the Commission – is carrying out a review of patient safety in the area on foot of the concerns voiced.

“This review is in the process of being completed and the inspectorate will inform the commission of its findings in due course,” a spokesman said.

“The Inspector of Mental Health Services reported to the Mental Health Commission a number of unexpected deaths. On the back of this, the commission asked the inspectorate to carry out a review of service users safety. Once this review has gone through fair process, the commission will determine whether or not it’s appropriate to publish the findings,” a spokesman said.

Minister of State with responsibility for mental health services Kathleen Lynch has dismissed the allegations and said there is no evidence to back up claims of patients being prematurely discharged.

A HSE spokesman added that all serious incidents that occur in any mental health treatment facility are reported to the relevant authorities and a review is carried out as a matter of priority.

But Mr Kavanagh, who first raised the concerns over the level of suicide at the PNA’s annual conference recently, insists there are real causes for concern.

“There is no doubt that in order to provide a modern mental health service where patients are cared for in the least restricted way possible, risks must be taken and casualties will occur, but surely 14 in 18 months is too much. Surely this points to system failures which need to be reviewed,” he said.

“I have every sympathy for those trying to balance the needs of a patient requiring urgent admission and another who is recovering but probably needs another week of inpatient care. The system is failing people and we need to learn from such failures in the best interests of our people..”

* If you need or support for mental health problems, the Samaritans runs a 24-hour listening service. Call 1850 60 90 90. The HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention website – – also has details of other forms of support.