Crumbling mental hospitals to be closed 'within three years'
THE Government has promised to close all of the country's crumbling Victorian-era mental health institutions within the next three years.
Some 1,200 patients are resident in 15 institutions, many of which are unfit for human habitation, Minister of State with responsibility for mental health John Moloney admitted.
Mr Moloney yesterday said he was "sticking my neck out" in giving a three-year timeframe for the move, but added he was confident it would be met.
Priority will be given this year to St Loman's in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and St Ita's in Portrane, north Dublin, which came in for severe criticism in a recent inspector's report. The plan for the coming months is to build a new nursing unit at St Loman's to cater for patients currently housed in two sub-standard wards, while a new acute unit will be built at Beaumont Hospital to stop further admissions to St Ita's.
The Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum will also be closed.
Mr Moloney said he was currently considering two locations for a replacement hospital, but he declined to name them. The Government had initially decided to relocate it to the site of the planned super prison at Thornton Hall in north Dublin.
However, it scrapped the plans after they came in for fierce criticism from patients' families.
"There certainly will be no fear of any stigma attached, such as we had the possibility at Thornton Hall," he pledged.
"I can assure you that we want to not alone take the patients and the families into account, but also people who might be living in the immediate area."
Brian Gilroy, head of estates at the Health Services Executive, said it had already written down a lot of the value of the Victorian hospitals.
He said the HSE would have to "make good the shortfall", should the sale of these assets not realise the €50m needed to fund the construction of new facilities this year.
These facilities include two community nursing units, two child and adolescent units and two acute admission units.
Mr Moloney said the three-year target for closing the Victorian institutions was achievable.
"I could play it safe and start saying it's five or seven years, but I decided to stick my neck out to say it has to be three years. It's not fair at this point to start extending the timeframe for the closure," he added.
"I also believe, for the sake of the 1,200 people who live out there, it's up to us to ensure that we don't take our foot off the pedal."
As part of the 10-year 'Vision for Change' programme, the number of inpatient mental health beds is set to be slashed from a current level of 1,227 to just 650 by 2015, so that the vast bulk of care takes place in the community with patients living in their own homes.
Assistant national director of mental health at the HSE, Martin Rogan, said they were ahead of schedule when it came to services for children and adolescents, with 52 inpatient beds due to be in place by the end of the year out of a planned total of 100.
However, children's charity Barnados last night said the current state of mental health care for young people was "dismal", with 155 children and adolescents having been admitted to adult psychiatric units last year.