Patients face Christmas in lock-up
Five mentally-ill women to spend holidays in secure unit as hospital hit by staff shortages
Five long-term mentally-ill women will be forced from the companionship of their open ward to a "lock-up" secure unit for Christmas because of staff holidays and the loss of nurses who have taken the public service severance deal.
The five vulnerable women are being moved in with six patients who are permanent patients in the secure ward at St Brendan's Hospital, in Grangegorman in Dublin.
It's been claimed that as a result, 11 women will share one shower available in the unit throughout Christmas and into the New Year.
They will be moved away from their old ward where they have already put up festive decorations and a Christmas tree.
Many of the women have been deeply distressed and worried about the forced move.
Relatives have been in tears as they protested to the HSE and public representatives and have begged to get tomorrow's evacuation of Unit 3B stopped.
Seven other female patients from Unit 3B, which will be shut down until January 16, will also be moved because of nursing shortages.
Four will be moved to unfamiliar community hostels, while three women will be transferred to beds in other units away from their companions.
Mental health advocates say disruption to the routine in the daily lives of the mentally ill can cause deep anxiety.
A sister of one of the patients who is being moved has made an impassioned plea asking the Government to reverse the decision.
Aine, whose sister has been a patient for many years, told the Sunday Independent that five patients are being transferred to the secure (locked) Unit 0 -- known to patients as "the block".
"My sister is one of these long-term patients. My elderly father has spent the afternoon on the phone in distress trying to lobby anyone who will listen. This is extremely urgent as these patients are due to move on Monday. None of the patients, staff, doctors, administration staff and management in St Brendan's feel that this move is in the best interest of these vulnerable patients. However, I have been informed that the hospital's hands are tied as they cannot recruit cover over the Christmas period to adequately cover Unit 3B, which is due to close for six weeks.
Aine said the women of 3B are being moved from their "family", which is being split into three for the holidays.
Labour TD Joe Costello expressed anger over the move, which he believes should be halted.
"A shortage of staff over the Christmas period is the reason given for the closure. However, with further staff retirements expected by the end of February 2012 there is concern that the staffing shortage will continue and that the 'open' unit will remain closed," he said.
A HSE statement to the Sunday Independent stressed the changes will be reversed on January 16 and the measures are necessary to ensure continuity of services and to ensure safe staff complements to care for residents and patients.
The statement added that the Mental Health Commission has been advised.
The issue was highlighted on Friday when a mental health advocate, Louise, spoke on RTE's Liveline.
Louise said: "It's a locked ward where there is a security guard on the door; they can't get out the door. They're locked in there all day, every day until a staff member comes to bring them to the shop or does something. And that's, you know, only certain patients would have that privilege where they can get out now and then. But they're literally in that place 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Louise added: "And in this dormitory, that's locked at a certain time in the morning, you know there is going to be 11 women sharing this small room, and then they will be moved out of that room into what can be described as a large sitting room for people to be sitting looking at each other all day, every day, with one television to share. And now all of them are going to have go have a shower, and some of the patients are of mixed abilities as well. I mean the patients of the open ward that are going to be transferred to the locked ward are going to find it very disturbing," she said.
Mr Costello said that staff have contacted management, their union and the Labour Court about the unacceptable situation being presented to them.
"The mix of high-risk and low-risk patients is contrary to all medical practice and could, indeed, prove dangerous for staff and patients. The HSE should find a way to maintain best medical practice either through overtime or by providing additional temporary staff. If the HSE are not prepared to find a best practice solution then I believe the (Health) Minister should intervene to ensure the 'open' unit is not closed," he said.
St Brendan's has less than 100 patients and is the oldest mental health hospital in the State -- dating back to 1816.
John McCarthy, of the mental health advocacy group Mad Pride Ireland, told the Sunday Independent the situation in Grangegorman highlights something which has been happening for years.
"The HSE is in a bind. There is an embargo on recruitment and staff are leaving. They are being forced more and more to hire agency staff to take up the slack and now they have run out of money."
"If you look at any of the lock-up facilities around the country, similar things are going to occur," he said.