By: Ellen Coyne
Eight of the 14 acute mental health beds covering Waterford and Wexford will be closed because of serious concerns that the service is unsafe for more than six people.
The mental health unit at University Hospital Waterford was almost shut down because of a failure to comply with basic standards of staff training and the “privacy, dignity and wellbeing” of patients. Staff at the unit have not completed mandatory training on the use of restraint and there have been numerous breaches of health standards.
Documents seen by The Times show that the Mental Health Commission threatened to refuse approval for the department of psychiatry at the hospital. It is illegal for mental health services to operate without being registered as an approved centre by the Mental Health Commission.
The acute psychiatric unit covers a population of about 300,000 people in the south east after a psychiatric unit in Enniscorthy was closed in 2010. The Waterford unit has 14 beds, but the commission has said the maximum number of patients it could treat safely was six and that capacity would be reduced on March 1.
The commission noted serious breaches of patient privacy in a report on the unit last year.The scale of the problems highlighted in the report, led the commission to threaten to withdraw its approval for the unit, which would have forced it to close.
In a letter to the HSE dated February 3, Rosemary Smyth, the director of standards at the Mental Health Commission, said it “formally withdrew” the threat, instead listing four conditions that the HSE must agree to for the centre to be registered.
In addition to the reduction in the number of beds, all residents must be given access to therapeutic services, all staff must get mandatory training and a comprehensive risk management policy has to be implemented.
“The current acute unit does not provide residents with access to any dining, visiting, recreational or communal spaces. This does not accord with the privacy, dignity or wellbeing of residents accommodated in the acute unit,” it said.
James Browne, the Fianna Fail mental health spokesman, called on Helen McEntee, the mental health minister, to intervene and make funding available for the unit.
“The Mental Health Commission has expressed concern for the health, safety and wellbeing of mental health patients attending University Hospital Waterford. Staff at the hospital are doing their best with limited resources, but there is only so much they can do. The government needs to release additional resources to help overcome this crisis,” he said.
Brendan Howlin, the Labour leader, said the impact on patients in the region would be “enormous”.
“This situation is entirely unacceptable to the people of both counties who demand immediate provision of appropriate psychiatric services for this region,” he said.
The Department of Health directed The Times to the HSE, stating that the process was “still ongoing” within the executive. The HSE has until this Friday to make a submission to the Mental Health Commission on its recommendations.
“Services continue to be provided as normal at the department of psychiatry acute mental health unit in Waterford,” a spokesman for the HSE said.
“The HSE is continuing to liase with the Mental Health Commission.”