Bed capacity at the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) has reached a "critical" level with many patients being left on waiting lists for long periods of time.
There are currently 29 people waiting for a bed at the hospital, of whom 20 are referrals from the Irish Prison Service.
Prisoners in Mountjoy, Castlerea and Portlaoise prisons are among those currently waiting for a bed at the hospital, which has a maximum capacity of 93.
“Referrals to the CMH are kept under weekly review. There remains the critical lack of bed capacity at the hospital and managing the competing priorities of all those who have been assessed as having a requirement for admission is being done on the basis of assessed clinical need ,” a HSE spokeswoman said.
Staff at Portlaoise prison have expressed concern that prisoners in “dire” need of the mental health services provided at the CMH have been left on a waiting list for so long.
“There are a number of prisoners being housed in prisons across the country that need to be treated at the CMH. They are a threat, firstly, to themselves and secondly to staff and other prisoners here in Portlaoise.
“It’s unacceptable that people with serious mental health issues are not being treated properly and remain in prison instead of the CMH. The situation needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,” a source said.
Unfit for trial
The CMH is the only hospital for people involved in serious crimes in the country, and patients are referred there primarily when they are found unfit to stand trial, or found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Others are transferred there from prisons – both voluntarily and involuntarily – when they need psychiatric treatment that cannot be provided within the general Irish prison service.
Most of the patients currently housed at the hospital are men, according to the annual report of the Mental Health Criminal Law Review Board
The offences, or alleged offences, with which patients detained in the Central Mental Hospital in 2016 were charged, or convicted, included murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, assault causing serious bodily harm and arson.
Of the 81 patients whose detention was reviewed by the board, 40 had been charged with, or convicted of, murder.
The annual review said the majority of the victims of this offence, or alleged offence, were a family member of the patient.
Eight patients were charged with, or convicted of, attempted murder, manslaughter or death by dangerous driving. Sixteen were charged with, or convicted of, assault causing harm or serious bodily harm and four with arson.
Since the board was set up in 2006, patients have been legally entitled to have a review every six months.
Five of the 81 patients reviewed in 2016 were granted a conditional discharge, enabling them to leave hospital subject to stipulations about where they live, who they contact, and what treatment they receive.