Judge criticises hospital’s discharge of intellectually disabled Traveller woman

Ward of court ended up staying in cramped caravan on unofficial halting site

 

The High Court president has voiced serious concern over the discharge from hospital of an intellectually disabled Traveller woman who was a ward of court. She ended up in a cramped caravan on a unofficial halting site after being discharged without a court application.

Because there is no better alternative currently available for the woman, she must remain in the caravan with her brother and his family while the HSE tries to find a more suitable placement, Mr Justice Peter Kelly decided.

Maria Dillon, a solicitor representing the HSE, agreed conditions are cramped but said the woman has been visited on behalf of the HSE, is doing “very well” and identifies very strongly with Traveller culture.

It is perhaps a “damning reflection” of the present state of matters in the country that more than 2,500 Traveller families were living on unauthorised halting sites last year, she observed.

The woman, her brother and his family have to go to another relative’s home for washing and sanitation facilities as there are none where they are, the court heard.

Mr Justice Kelly said the woman, with a dual diagnosis of intellectual disability and a mental illness in remission, was discharged “without a by your leave” by a consultant psychiatrist last summer when any transfer was a matter for the court.

Immunity

The consultant appeared to have taken the view, after gardai contacted the hospital in connection with alleged public order offences by the woman and her alleged failure to pay a taxi fare, she had no immunity as a ward of court.

David Leahy BL, for the general solicitor for wards of court, said the woman was discharged “fairly summarily” to her sister’s care but the sister was homeless and unable to look after her and she then went to stay with her brother.

Another High Court judge had directed the HSE to address the situation but, while the woman was given liberty to live with her brother, that situation was not sustainable as the brother could be asked to move on at any time.

Ms Dillon said the woman’s sister, although homeless, had temporary accommodation but that provide unviable for the woman. She then went to her brother whose caravan had gas for cooking.

The situation is concerning but the only available solution for now is for the woman to remain there while efforts were made to find an alternative, she said.

A hospital bed would also be available immediately should she become homeless.

Mr Leahy said he welcomed the HSE apology over the circumstances of the discharge.

It cannot be gainsaid that wardship could not provide protection from prosecution and, if the woman has committed an offence, she will face the consequences in the normal way, he remarked.

The judge said the woman appeared to have faced a very uncertain situation on a discharge which t should not have happened without court approval.

He said he noted and accepted the HSE’s apology but there should be no repeat of what occurred especially because the HSE had sought to have the woman made a ward of court in the first place.

The evidence is there is no immediate solution to her current needs and the situation is of “considerable delicacy”, he said.

He adjourned the case to November 5th so various matters can be addressed.