Residents finally making the move to Deer Lodge

Dónal Nolan

The Psychiatric Nurses' Association (PNA) is warning that the new Deer Lodge mental health facility into which 32 patients are finally relocating this week after a protracted delay will be 'seriously compromised' by the fact that it will lack a number of measures it says are considered best practice under modern mental health care models.

No crisis intervention beds or respite care beds - as ostensibly adopted as standard practice under the Vision for Change policy document of 2006 - are included in the new facility.

The HSE said it was delighted to open a mental health care facility it has described as vastly superior to the existing centre making way for it in a 'huge step forward' for care in the sector, however.

Among the many benefits of the new state-of-the-art €13 million facility will be significant improvements in general services as well as in therapeutic intervention in rehabilitative and older persons mental health, Head of Mental Health Services Sinead Glennon said this week.

PNA spokesperson Cormac Williams said that while nurses welcome the opening, they are simultaneously warning it will also represent a 'major step backwards in service delivery concepts'. 32 patients of the dilapidated O'Connor Unit on the grounds of St Finan's Hospital were to have finally transferred into the state-of-the-art Deer Lodge centre on St Margaret's Road in Killarney on Tuesday; with an additional nine beds in the 40-bed unit to open in the coming weeks.

The long-awaited opening comes after a protracted dispute between the HSE and psychiatric nurses' unions over staffing levels. But while the nurses welcome the opening, it is clear many concerns remain on the staffing front.

"While nurses welcome the new state of the art building and facilities, they remain gravely concerned that the quality and standard of care including health and safety will be seriously compromised within Deer Lodge due to an out of date early 20th century service delivery model based on custodial care and low skill labour in the state of the art 21st century building," Mr Williams stated this week," adding: "The lack of clinically-trained staff to advance modern service delivery concepts... with the aim of discharging service users back to community settings with supports, remains a major disappointment and a missed opportunity to advance the delivery of mental health services."

However, Ms Glennon said the HSE is "absolutely confident that there will be a very high standard of care at Deer Lodge."

"The opening of Deer Lodge means an overall increase of eight beds in Mental Health Services in Kerry and those eight beds come with a corresponding increase in staff numbers of 28.5," Ms Glennon added.