Watchdog urges investment in infection control for mental health facilities

Legislation needed to ensure buildings are fit for purpose, Mental Health Commission says

Urgent investment is needed in mental health facilities to protect against further surges of Covid-19 or other pandemics, according to the Mental Health Commission.

More robust legislation is also needed to ensure buildings are fit for purpose and meeting best practice for infection control and prevention, it says.

People using mental health services who reside in long-term residential care or acute settings may be particularly susceptible to developing Covid-19, the commission says in a new review paper. This may be due to the use of outdated buildings or because people receiving care are less able to comply with infection-control guidelines.

Almost 2,700 cases occurred in mental health units during the pandemic.

Staff in mental health services played a critical role in protecting residents from the virus, but frontline staff also bore a significant disease burden, the paper states.

Two-thirds of cases were among staff, the paper concludes, based on a detailed analysis of more than 400 cases between March and July 2020.

Among staff, nurses were the most affected, accounting for 55 per cent of all staff cases.

“However, the guidance available to staff during the pandemic was not always tailored to the residential mental health services.”

National guidance

To provide better protection for staff and residents, national guidance should be proofed for relevance to mental health services, the commission says.

Staff training in infection control should continue to be prioritised, it adds.

"The weaknesses around premises as outlined in this paper won't come as a surprise to anyone who has been reading our inspection reports over the past number of years," said commission chief executive John Farrelly.

“One of our key recommendations in this paper is increased investment and targeted regulations to ensure all residential and inpatient mental health services are in modern, fit-for-purpose buildings, which comply with infection prevention and control standards.

“A more targeted regulatory framework will help to ensure that residents are provided with the surroundings and premises that will create dignity and hope while protecting against the risk of future infection.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times