Ireland should ‘look after our own sick’, says High Court president

Mr Justice Peter Kelly warns of reliance on UK facilities for wards of court ahead of Brexit

Mr Justice Peter Kelly  said he had been told over ‘months and months’ provision of facilities for wards of court was being ‘considered’ by the HSE but he doubted there was ‘a strong plan’. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said he had been told over ‘months and months’ provision of facilities for wards of court was being ‘considered’ by the HSE but he doubted there was ‘a strong plan’. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

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This country “should be able to look after our own sick in our own hospitals and facilities” and not have to send those who need specialised services to the UK, the president of the High Court has said.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly made the remarks earlier this week after being told the HSE had been unable so far to find beds for a number of wards of court in specialised facilities in the UK.

A stage of “gridlock” had been reached in that regard, the court heard.

As of now, there are about ten wards of court, including a number of children, in UK facilities. They include people with severe anorexia, others severely traumatised by sexual abuse and others considered a risk to themselves and others.

The judge also expressed concern about the uncertainty surrounding Brexit for wards of court who are placed in the UK by orders of the UK courts grounded on European legislation.

There is “a big question mark” about the status of orders made under European legislative instruments and it “is not satisfactory at all” the HSE has not to date outlined its plans for wards post Brexit, he said.

Patricia Hickey, general solicitor for wards of court, said she will write immediately to the HSE in that regard. She also said she was unaware of any plans by the HSE to provide specialised services here similar to those available in the UK.

The judge said he had been told over “months and months” such provision was being “considered” but he doubted there was “a strong plan”. Ms Hickey agreed to make inquiries of the HSE and report back to the court.

Expert opinion

The court has heard there are disputes between psychiatrists and other professionals over whether it is better to send wards to the specialised UK services or to create bespoke services for them here.

When told that a particular facility where a number of wards are placed has no bed available for a very troubled teenage girl, the judge said the situation “underlines we don’t have specialised facilities here to look after people who need them”.

While the UK facility has facilitated the court up to now in finding places for wards, “we should be able to look after our own sick in our own hospitals and our own facilities”. The UK facilities are working at full capacity and places are not available now and may not be in the future, he added.

The issues arose in cases including of a very troubled and vulnerable girl considered to be a serious suicide risk whom Ms Hickey said could not return home because of a disturbed family background and who remains in a hospital unit because no suitable placement has been found for her.

Ms Hickey asked the judge to continue orders detaining the girl in the hospital and adjourn the matter for three weeks so the HSE could devise a care plan. The judge said the situation was “grim” but he had no option but to make those orders.

He wondered whether the girl would be a suitable candidate for a UK facility but noted the current lack of places there. All of this underlines people have to stay in “sub-optimal” conditions here due to the lack of appropriate facilities, he said.

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