July 17, 2009

CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent

FAMILIES WHO say their relatives were mistreated in the mental health system have urged the Government to establish an independent inquiry into care standards across a number of psychiatric services.

A group which included representatives from Action On Elder Abuse, a former nurse from mental health services in Co Clare, and relatives of former patients met with Minister of State for mental health John Moloney to discuss calls for an inquiry yesterday.

Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Bridie Cox, a former nurse in the mental health service in Co Clare, said she had been shocked by the treatment of many older people, in particular those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Among the type of ill-treatment she says she witnessed included the over-sedation of patients, physical abuse, bullying, intimidation and neglect.

She says she left the health service as she could no longer tolerate the mistreatment of residents. “I was shocked when I came home after working as a nurse in the UK. It was like going back in time. I saw patients being bullied, intimidated and kicked.”

She says she raised her concerns with health authorities at the time, but her concerns were found to be “groundless”.

Families of people in the care of mental health services in the mid-west also said they were not satisfied with the response of health authorities to their concerns.

The Health Service Executive locally says it is undertaking a “management review” of allegations and complaints, as well as investigations into individual complaints. However, Lourda Finn, whose father died while in the care of mental health services, said relatives wanted an independent inquiry.

Their calls for an inquiry come just months after an inquiry by the State’s mental health watchdog into two psychiatric hospitals found evidence that intellectually disabled residents were being inappropriately administered tranquillisers to control their behaviour.

The report into standards at St Michael’s unit, South Tipperary General Hospital, and St Luke’s hospital, both in Clonmel, found widespread failures to provide proper standards of care to residents. These included wards being unnecessarily locked, overuse of seclusion and a lack of needs-based therapeutic or recreation activities.

Following a meeting with Mr Moloney yesterday, Jack Keaveney of Action On Elder Abuse said they had been promised a response to their calls for an inquiry by the end of this month.

He also said the group highlighted the need for the HSE’s elder abuse officers to have greater powers to inspect facilities or advocate on behalf of patients.

“What’s important to stress is that these incidents we’re highlighting are not isolated and they’re not confined to Clare or anywhere else.”

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times