What next for St Fintan’s

WHILE the Inspectorate of Mental Health Services has recommended its ‘expeditious closure’, St Fintan’s psychiatric hospital in Portlaoise continued to admit residents during 2012.

WHILE the Inspectorate of Mental Health Services has recommended its ‘expeditious closure’, St Fintan’s psychiatric hospital in Portlaoise continued to admit residents during 2012.

The HSE has developed plans for a new €6 million purpose built, 40 bed unit to be located and completed within three years on the St Fintan’s Hospital campus as a replacement for the hospital.

Having raised the issue in the Dáil, Deputy Sean Fleming was informed that while this unit is being progressed, the HSE is considering and pursuing all options regarding interim solutions for the existing hospital and its current service users given the findings of the Mental Heath Commission report.

Deputy Fleming in a Dáil contribution outlined,

“The issue of older person’s services is very important in County Laois. Many of the residents of St Fintan’s Hospital in Portlaoise are elderly.

Proposals have been made regarding the closure of two such facilities in the county, namely, Abbeyleix and Shaen hospitals.

In that context, it is important to consider together the two units designated for closure and St Fintan’s psychiatric hospital.

The Mental Health Commission, which is responsible for St Fintan’s Hospital, paid an unannounced visit to the facility on March 28, 2012 in line with normal practice.

The commission’s report found the hospital continued to admit residents which contravenes national policy on the closure of 19th century psychiatric hospitals.

The report also found the following:

All residents did not have a choice of main meal and access to fresh drinking water. A therapeutic activation programme was not available for all residents.

Residents were not provided with adequate information about the services offered.

The Rehabilitation team and the Psychiatry of Old Age team were not adequately staffed with health and social care professionals.

The circumstances in respect of St Fintan’s Hospital are not in dispute.

Everyone agrees the facility, which opened 180 years ago in 1832, should close.

The Mental Health Commission (MHC) report referred to its recommendation, made in 2011, that plans to close the hospital “should be progressed with a clear time frame”, noting that there were “no clear plans for the closure of St Fintan’s Hospital.”

On the day of the commission’s visit 38 people were resident in the hospital, 25 of whom were in ward six, with the remaining 13 in what is known as the “rehabilitation area”.

In its conclusions, the MHC report notes that St Fintan’s Hospital “was the only old psychiatric institution in the country to continue to increase its bed number year on year.”

Instead of closing, the number of beds in the hospital increased in the past year.

The report also notes that the residents were either elderly or under the care of the rehabilitation team.

The commission’s first recommendation is that “plans to progress the closure of St Fintan’s Hospital should proceed expeditiously.”

What should be done with the hospital’s residents?

In May 2012, the Health Service Executive in the midland region published an information and consultation document on its older persons service in which it invited people to participate in a consultation process on the potential closure of two community nursing units, Abbeyleix and St Brigid’s Hospital, Shaen.

The document stated that all institutions for older persons in the midlands will be subject to the future decision process and listed facilities in Mountmellick, Longford, Birr, Mullingar, Athlone, Tullamore, Edenderry, Shaen and Abbeyleix.

It does not, however, refer to St Fintan’s Hospital because while the MHC is responsible for psychiatric hospitals, the Health Information and Quality Authority is responsible for other residential institutions for the elderly and ne’er the twain will meet.”