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Sunday 8 December 2019

'Minister should meet more frontline staff in mental health' - priest

Junior Minister Jim Daly. Picture: Arthur Carron
Junior Minister Jim Daly. Picture: Arthur Carron

Sarah Mac Donald

A priest has criticised Junior Minister Jim Daly for failing to meet more frontline health workers during a visit to a county experiencing a spike in suicides.

Jigsaw is opening a new mental health outreach in Thurles next year, but local campaigners are angry that there are still no crisis mental health beds in the whole of Co Tipperary.

Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Mr Daly this week announced Jigsaw's new hub will be operational in Thurles from next year.

The announcement followed his meeting with a delegation representing local Oireachtas and county councillors on mental health care in Co Tipperary.

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But Fr Michael Toomey criticised Mr Daly's failure to meet more frontline staff while holding discussions in the county.

He said these staff could have given him a sense of just how "dire the lack of mental health support and the lack of beds are in the county", the priest said.

Fr Toomey highlighted how he had dealt with eight suicides either directly or indirectly since June this year.

He believes the main mental health issue for the county is the lack of crisis beds, particularly in the south.

Following the minister's visit earlier this week, Fr Toomey said: "I thank Minister Daly for coming to Tipperary.

"I am disappointed however that he cannot make time to meet some of the fantastic staff, volunteers and people who work tirelessly across the county to get a first hand sense of just how dire the lack of mental health support and lack of beds are here in the county.

"There is not one single crisis mental health bed available in Co Tipperary.

"This, despite the fact that Tipperary has the highest suicide rate outside of Dublin, and recent figures show that Clonmel has been hit by more suicides per capita than the rest of the country outside of Dublin," said the priest, who is based in the Parish of the Resurrection in Clonmel.

"Our A&E departments across the county are, on an almost daily basis, stretched to the limit. The staff do outstanding work in appalling situations.

"And yet those with mental health emergencies have to also endure what any other patient has to, ending up often on trolleys with no privacy and dignity on a corridor, which I have personally witnessed several times."

The closure of St Michael's Unit at South Tipperary General Hospital in 2012 resulted in the loss of 18 acute mental health beds which were never replaced.

Those with mental health emergencies today are directed to hospital A&E departments and often end up on trolleys.


However, a spokesman for Mr Daly told the Irish Independent that a new permanent 10-bed crisis house is to be developed on Glenconnor Road in Clonmel.

It is expected that construction will commence shortly after March 2020.

A spokesperson for the HSE said the build for the crisis house envisages "a construction programme of 12 months or less".

Mr Daly's spokesperson also said that Tipperary's suicide statistics of 8.5 per 100,000 are marginally above the national average of 8.1.

South Tipperary is below the national average.

Irish Independent

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