'Outdated' asylum still taking in patients


A VICTORIAN-ERA psychiatric hospital – previously described as unfit for habitation – has been admitting new patients in breach of national policy on the closure of outdated institutions.

Earlier this year, the Mental Health Commission, the State’s watchdog for mental health services, welcomed the end of admissions to outdated mental asylums following decades of stinging criticism.

However, inspectors who visited St Fintan’s Hospital in Portlaoise last March were surprised to find that the facility had been admitting new patients.

Records show that bed numbers in the hospital have risen from 27 in 2008 to 43 in 2012.

In a report recently compiled by the Inspector of Mental Health Services, it was stated that St Fintan’s should close as soon as possible.

“St Fintan’s Hospital was an old Victorian hospital which was unsuitable for a modern inpatient mental health service,” said the latest inspection report.

“The wards were old-fashioned and institutionalised. The rehabilitation ward showed peeling paint, cobwebs and mould. Ward 6 had been redecorated and was very clean.”

Despite the conditions in parts of the hospital, the report found that staff were caring and knowledgeable, while the standard of documentation and nursing practice was high. A person admitted to the hospital on the night of inspection had been adequately assessed.

St Fintan’s opened in 1832 but, along with other 19th-century asylums, has faced repeated criticism for its outdated and sometimes dilapidated living conditions.

The closure of these facilities forms part of the State’s policy to reorientate mental health services away from an institutional model of care to specialist community care.

Admissions to these hospitals – which still house more than 100 long-term residents – is no longer deemed acceptable. All these hospitals are being wound down and are due to close over the coming years.

The most recent inspection report once again found that deteriorating conditions in the hospital’s rehabilitation ward needed to be addressed.

In addition, it said all residents did not have a choice of main meal and did not have access to fresh drinking water.

Inspectors also found that a rehabilitation team and psychiatry-of-old-age team were not adequately staffed with health and social care professionals. An inspection report on St Fintan’s last year found that walls and roofs were leaking during bad weather, while a shortage of multi-disciplinary team members was compounding difficulties experienced by staff in the delivery of care.