A newly refurbished ward in the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) will not be available for patients from the prison system despite 22 severely ill inmates on a waiting list for a bed.
The hospital, which has 94 beds, is currently full with no room to take in even the most serious of cases, according to its clinical director, Prof Harry Kennedy.
“We have people who are extremely ill, who should not be in prison, who should not be anywhere except for here. But there’s just no chance of a vacancy,” he said.
“It’s reaching the point where it’s actually unsafe to be in the prisons now because there are so many seriously ill, untreated people there.
“There have been a number of injuries to our staff and there have been a lot of injuries to prison officers. It is getting serious.”
The situation has improved marginally since last April, when there were 26 prisoners with severe mental health issues waiting on a space in the hospital for treatment or assessment.
A recently refurbished 10-bed ward has started taking in patients after laying vacant for months due to staffing issues. Four beds have been opened, with another six expected to open soon.
However, these beds have been designated for “Section 21.2 patients” – those sent to the hospital from other psychiatric facilities rather than the prison system.
Many of the prisoners waiting on a bed at the hospital are currently held on the D2 wing of Cloverhill Prison, which houses vulnerable inmates. This week there were 27 inmates on the landing, one short of maximum capacity.
Last July, The Irish Times reported some severely ill prisoners were sleeping on the floor because of overcrowding on D2.
According to the World Health Organisation, 10-15 per cent of prisoners worldwide suffer from serious, long-term mental illnesses.
Eoin Martin of Ballyfin, Co Laois, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis, has been on the D2 landing since August 29th. He is facing charges in relation to an incident in a Tullamore pub during which a man was stabbed eight times.
His mother, Colette Martin, told The Irish Times her son has been in isolation since last week when he allegedly attacked prison staff with a toothbrush. He is refusing all treatment.
“He thinks he’s fine. He thinks everyone is out to get him,” Ms Martin said.
The Irish Prison Service does not have the power to force prisoners to take medication, even if they are psychotic. However, the CMH can medicate patients against their will in certain circumstances.
“If he’s in the mental hospital, they can give him a couple of jabs in the backside, a couple of strong doses of anti-psychotics to knock him out a bit and give his brain a chance to rest. Then they can reduce him back down to what he was on.”
Ms Martin said she has had her son involuntarily committed twice in the past and “two weeks in a hospital will have him sorted”.
Ms Martin has written to various officials and politicians, including Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, but has been told there is no room for her son in the CMH.
“They have to take a different approach to this. They’re coming at paranoid schizophrenia from the 1950s or 1960s. They’re all terrified these are Jekyll and Hyde monsters prowling the earth waiting to attack someone.”
Prof Kennedy said: “She has our total sympathy but there are extremely ill people on the waiting list as well as just moderately ill.”