June 29, 2009

CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent

STAFF AT the Central Mental Hospital has warned that the hospital has “closed its doors” to new admissions and is now unable to respond to any new patients with serious mental health problems.

Siptu, which represents most staff at the institution, says the hospital has 25 vacant nursing posts. As a result, it says it is unable to “plug the gaps” in staffing any longer.

The Health Service Executive did not respond to queries on the issue yesterday. It has said in recent days it is seeking an exemption from the moratorium on recruitment from the Department of Finance to allow it to hire new staff. Union officials yesterday said this moratorium had not been granted and the hospital was now in the throes of a major crisis.

“Our members in the Central Mental Hospital are working huge levels of overtime to plug the gaps in the service and this cannot continue,” said Siptu’s national nursing official Louise O’Reilly.

“Our members are now very concerned that the hospital is effectively closing its doors, and at the profound implications this will have across the mental health services.”

As of the middle of this week, there was a waiting list of at least six patients in need of urgent treatment, the union said.

In addition, a man charged with assaulting a garda, criminal damage and other offences walked free from the Circuit Criminal Court in recent days after the Central Mental Hospital was unable to admit him for assessment earlier in the week.

Ms O’Reilly said the Department of Health was now operating a revolving-door policy at the hospital to try and mask what was, in effect, a closed-door system.

Fine Gael’s spokesman on mental health Dan Neville said the move would put increased pressure on hospitals and prisons which were dependent on timely admission for acutely ill patients to the Central Mental Hospital.

Amnesty International Ireland’s programmes director Noeleen Hartigan said if the hospital had closed its doors to new patients, it would affect some of the most vulnerable and distressed people in society. “They are bearing the brunt of decades of neglect by the Government of the Central Mental Hospital.”

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times