Two of the State’s ageing psychiatric hospitals will be closed each year under the Government’s plan to develop community mental health care services, Minister of State for Mental Health John Moloney stated.
Minister Moloney said he expected to name by April the first two psychiatric hospitals that would close, resulting in the relocation of patients to more suitable community facilities.
Mr Moloney also made a commitment to “ring-fencing” funds from the sale of lands around the psychiatric hospitals for the development of mental health services.
A number of psychiatric institutions have already been closed and patients have been transferred to alternative community facilities.
Some 1,485 people remained in inappropriate conditions at psychiatric hospitals throughout the State as at the end of September 2008, according to Department of Health figures.
Closure plans have already been developed for nine hospitals in the HSE South area and for four in the Dublin-North East area. St Loman’s Hospital in Mullingar and Newcastle, Co Wicklow are also under active consideration for closure of facilities.
In the HSE West area, many of the large psychiatric hospitals have already been closed and patients transferred to alternative community accommodation. A closure plan for St Brigid’s Hospital has been agreed to by management and unions.
Mr Moloney also said today the admission of teenagers to adult psychiatric hospitals would be stopped by the end of 2010 with the opening of new beds at a number of units in Cork, Galway and Dublin.
The Minister stated that there was new funding to implement the Vision for Change plan this year because of the economic climate, but nonetheless stated that funds from the sale of lands around psychiatric hospitals would be put back into mental health services.
Some €42 million has been raised in recent years from the sale of four properties – St Loman’s Hospital, the Verville retreat in Clontarf, and two others.
“This funding needs to be made available now to fund new mental health infrastructure if we are to progress AVision for Change in the next few years,” Mr Moloney said.
The Minister said he “fully accepted” that the closure programme for the psychiatric hospitals had been talked about “for some time”. But two hospitals would be publicly notified of their closure by April and he had almost signed off on this, he said.
Mr Moloney said that whilst the values of the properties in question had no doubt declined in the current economic environment, there was also “real interest” from developers in the lands attached to them.
He said he had been approached by developers interested in a “very valuable landbank” in Wexford, in which they saw “huge potential”.
“I think the most important part of today is that we are still conscious of the fact that people still reside in these institutions.”
That body also said the HSE’s implementation plan for the mental health policy was, in some areas “selective and vague” and with “too little detail and too many timelines that lack ambition”. A new implementation plan, due for publication by the end of 2008, will not now be ready for another “two to three months”, Mr Moloney indicated today.
The independent monitoring group also expressed concern that some €24 million of the additional €51.2 million provided to the HSE for mental health resources in 2006 and 2007 was not used for the purpose intended.
The minister acknowledged today there had been problems with the “diversion” of such funds within the HSE. He said he had been assured as recently as last week that some 94 per cent of the €51.2 million in funding had now been put in place.
“I want to put it on record that as Minister for Equality, Disability and Mental Health, I expect to see tangible evidence on the ground which reflects this substantial investment in mental health,” he said.
The Irish Mental Health Coalition chair John Saunders questioned whether the €42 million had already been transferred to the HSE, and if not, asked when that would happen.
Mr Saunders also asked what provisions had been made for the 1,500 people residing in the psychiatric hospitals set for closure.
“From a recent IMHC report Late for an Important Date, it is clear that mental health services have been experiencing a painfully slow reform process and basic accountability is absent. The result is that people using services, their families and carers are struggling to access services which meet the most basic standards laid down for mental health services.”
MHC chairman Dr Edmond O’Dea said “the long and inexplicable delay by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in delivering on its core recommendations causes us concern, three years on”.