Saturday 14 December 2019

'System is failing' our mentally ill patients

Eilish O'Regan

PATIENTS with mental illness who are capable of living in the community are now ending up back in the old "asylum" system of psychiatric care, a leading psychiatrist has warned.

Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) president Dr Margo Wrigley said patients who could live in their own homes or community, with support, were having to be admitted to hospital because of a lack of psychiatric staff.

Nurses from the community are sacrificed and are redeployed back to psychiatric units because of the moratorium on recruitment and levels of retirement -- leaving community services neglected.

This is contrary to the promise of the Health Service Executive (HSE) to transfer patients from these units to a better life in the community.

It was exacerbating the existing pressure on these units where beds were being closed, Dr Wrigley warned at the IHCA annual general meeting in Co Limerick at the weekend.

"Community psychiatric teams are at the point of falling apart as nurses are brought back to cover inpatient rosters.

"Many psychiatric nurses can retire at 55. . . many of them leave and come back through an agency -- at 40pc additional cost.

"This policy is expensive, disruptive, unnecessary and certainly not strategic," she told the gathering of specialists.

Outlining a number of "bizarre" scenarios which have arisen, Dr Wrigley revealed:

  • A surgeon had recently been appointed with ring-fenced funding for operations from August. But his access to theatres was limited because of lack of staff.
  • Another newly appointed consultant told his hospital he could not work without basic equipment -- nothing was done. He got on the phone himself and negotiated with suppliers to provide the equipment, leaving payment until 2012.
  • A pathologist who took up a post said he could not work without essential equipment. Again, he himself had negotiated a loan to get the tools he needed to do his job.
  • A psychiatric service in Dublin had lost three occupational therapists, but under the rules of the moratorium on recruitment, nobody could be hired until 49 staff had left.


Dr Wrigley conceded that HSE managers were also demoralised and said some were afraid of "stepping out of line" in fear of losing favour and being moved aside.

It was essential that the Government moved to stop the blunt way in which the staff moratorium was being applied and prioritise frontline services, she added.

The moratorium on nurses should be ended and a system of targeted redundancies put in place, she said.

Other consultants spoke of their frustration from the floor.

Surgeon Joe McGrath of Navan Hospital, which recently lost its acute and emergency surgery service, said: "The north east has never been right -- now things have never been worse."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News