Saturday 17 March 2018

More mental-health patients now being committed by their families and gardaí

‘The vast majority of patients have schizophrenia, psychosis or very severe depression’. (picture posed) Stock photo: PA
‘The vast majority of patients have schizophrenia, psychosis or very severe depression’. (picture posed) Stock photo: PA
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Growing numbers of patients whose mental health has reached crisis point are being committed to psychiatric wards by distraught families or gardaí.

There were 2,363 detentions of patients to psychiatric wards against their will last year - up from 2,162 in 2014 - at a time when the trend for this 'last-resort' protection measure should be downwards.

The stark findings are revealed in the annual report of the Mental Health Commission.

The watchdog's chairman John Saunders said the rise was worrying and he expressed concern that one in four of the applications had to be made by families.

This places an unfair burden on families as going down this route has the potential to damage relationships with a loved one who is suffering from mental illness.

Half the patients had to be committed by gardaí - despite a promise by the HSE that the interests of the patient are best served when the action is taken by an authorised health professional. However, these are difficult to find in the evening, night or weekends, said Mr Saunders.

He continued: "These patients are usually the most ill.

"The vast majority have schizophrenia, psychosis or very severe depression."

Mr Saunders said the reasons for the rise in committals had not been fully analysed but the increase tied in with the problem of not having enough staff on community mental-health teams to help patients outside hospital control their illness.

He explained: "They (the teams) are not fully staffed and cannot provide a full and comprehensive service.

"The risk is that people who are unwell will go on to become much more unwell because they are not getting the kind of treatment they need."

The detained patient can appeal for release to a tribunal and nearly half had the order revoked last year before any hearing.

Minister of State Helen McEntee said yesterday that these involuntary admissions were closely monitored and regulated.

The report found that mental health services were only operating at 75pc of recommended staffing levels.

Of the 61 psychiatric centres inspected last year, just six complied with all regulations.

The report highlighted how hundreds of patients who have been moved into residences in the community, as the Victorian psychiatric hospitals are closed, are often placed in old and cramped houses.

These residences, which are supervised over 24 hours, should have no more than four patients. They should be homely and offer patients a new lease of life. But, it says, they can be "mini-institutions" and nearly half house more than 13 people.

Several were found to be drably decorated and in poor condition, with little daily stimulation for residents. In the area of physical restraint, 42pc were not compliant with the code of practice.

Documentation was inadequate in many cases and included a failure by psychiatrists to sign necessary forms.

In a third of cases, the patient did not have a physical exam, as is required.

It also highlighted how 95 children were placed in adult psychiatric hospitals last year.

This was often due to the fact there was no admitting team available in the child and adolescent centres.

Irish Independent

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