THOUSANDS marched to protest at a decision by the HSE not to open 22 acute mental health beds at a state-of-the-art facility.
A crowd estimated at 2,500 took to the streets of Ballinasloe yesterday in the latest demonstration of public anger across east Galway and the midlands at the controversial move.
The HSE will instead use a €2.8m refurbished building, earmarked for the mental health facility, primarily for administration purposes.
The Psychiatric Nurses' Association (PNA) slammed the decision and pointed out the Ballinasloe facility had been custom built for acutely ill patients.
"This was constructed as one of the most modern mental health facilities in the country," said PNA National Secretary Noel Giblin. "It beggars belief that this would be used for anything else other than an acute mental health unit."
Members of IMPACT and SIPTU and the PNA were joined by the mayors of Ballinasloe, Tuam, Loughrea and Roscommon. The Bishop of Clonfert Dr John Kirby and Dail deputies Denis Naughten, Michael Kitt and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan also attended.
The chairman of the East Galway Mental Health Action Group, Padraig Mulligan, said: "The HSE decision to close 22 beds is unacceptable."
The HSE pointed out that the refurbished unit could be reconfigured from acute to community-based services.
"There is no question of the building not being utilised to its fullest extent," the HSE said.