1,200 patients in 'outdated' institutions to be moved


THE GOVERNMENT will today announce plans to move 1,200 patients out of outdated psychiatric institutions within the next three years.

Minister for State with responsibility for mental health John Moloney says he wants to close the remaining 14 Victorian-era institutions and provide new community-based facilities.

However, many campaigners are likely to be sceptical of the plans given the lack of progress to date in implementing the Government’s mental health policy, A Vision for Change, published four years ago.

In addition, similar plans to close down inappropriate facilities have been made in the past by two previous ministers with responsibility for mental health.

However, Mr Moloney insisted yesterday that money raised from the sale of lands used by these psychiatric hospitals would be ring-fenced and reinvested in the service.

“This is my absolute priority. We have 1,200 people living in conditions they shouldn’t be living in. We have 4,000 in the community. But as long as people are aware that these institutions are still operating, people won’t have faith in our mental health services,” Mr Moloney said.

The plan will hinge on being able to raise up to €50 million this year through the sale of land and assets which will be reinvested into the mental health capital programme.

Some have questioned whether this will be be possible when there is little sign of a recovery in the property market.

Mr Moloney said he was optimistic that sufficient funds would be raised.

Other aspects of today’s plan – which seeks to breathe new life into A Vision for Change – are expected to include:

A national plan in conjunction with non-governmental organisations to tackle the stigma surrounding mental illness;

A temporary easing of the moratorium on the recruitment of nurses to the mental health sector with plans to hire about 100 nurses or health professionals;

Fresh plans to target investment in community-based multi-disciplinary mental health teams.

While Mr Moloney declined to comment on the details of today’s announcement, it is expected that institutions which have been most severely criticised by the Inspector of Mental Health Service will be among the first to close.

These include St Loman’s hospital in Mullingar, St Senan’s in Enniscorthy, and St Ita’s in Portrane, Co Dublin.

The Inspector for Mental Health Service found in his most recent report that a number of wards in these psychiatric institutions were “unfit for human habitation” and “should be decommissioned as a matter of urgency”.

Instead of closing these hospitals immediately it is understood these older facilities will be required to stop admitting new patients later this year.

In the meantime, plans to build new facilities and develop community-based accommodation will be advanced.

For example, a new 50-bed unit facility to replace two wards in St Loman’s is being planned, while work is due to be begin soon on a new 60-bed acute unit attached to Beaumont Hospital to replace an outdated facility at St Ita’s.

While health authorities have claimed in the past that money raised from the sale of psychiatric hospital lands would be ring-fenced to modernise services, this has not always been the case.

About €18 million out of an estimated €43 million raised from the sale of mental health service lands in Mullingar and Clontarf in 2004 and 2005 has yet to be returned by the Department of Finance to psychiatric services.

The department told health authorities it would only release the funding if there were detailed spending plans on where the money would go.