THOUSANDS of people with long-term psychiatric illnesses are dying 20 years prematurely because the side-effects they develop from medication are not being properly monitored, doctors have warned.
Dr Siobhan Barry, a psychiatrist in Dublin, said around 80,000 to 100,000 people here need these psychoactive medications for conditions such as schizophrenia.
However, many are not receiving the monitoring they should for physical complications such as weight gain, heart problems and high cholesterol, which can shorten their lifespan, she told the annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation.
These drugs are major tranquillisers and not common antidepressants. They include medications such as Olanzapine, which is used to used to treat schizophrenia.
"They can leave a patient developing weight gain, blood pressure, diabetes or hypertension," she said.
She described the failure to carry out physical checks on these patients as "reckless".
Patients should begin to be monitored through blood tests and ECG scans from the time they start on these medications, but this is not happening in many cases.
Fellow doctors attending the conference in Kildare unanimously supported her motion, calling on the Mental Health Commission to audit the adequacy of facilities available in outpatient departments for the physical investigations of these patients.
Dr Barry, who works in the Cluain Mhuire psychiatric services in south Dublin, said the problems have prompted them to hire a dietitian for the first time.
"It is a growing concern but our service on a sessional basis has taken on a dietician. It is part of a particular study we are doing on physical health. We have also started our health-track programme, doing ECGs and checking bloods. The important thing is to act on the results.
"Nobody would argue that if a cancer patient is receiving chemotherapy, their immune system should be checked. The same must be applied to these patients," she added.
Meanwhile, the conference also backed a motion to provide proper treatment facilities for those who are dependent on benzodiazepine tranquillisers.
Dr Barry said the availability of treatments was ad hoc, but only around 10pc to 12pc of these patients were responding.