Wednesday, 29 May 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Mental Health Services Provision
I thank the Ceann Comhairle’s office for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue.
Mental health services in Tipperary were devastated in 2012 following the closure by the then Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, of St. Michael's inpatient unit at South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel. That decision left north and south Tipperary with a mental health service which was not fit for purpose. It is important to note that all stakeholders at the time, namely, staff, patients, GPs and the public, were opposed to that closure. It meant that south Tipperary patients had to travel to Kilkenny for inpatient treatment while north Tipperary patients had to travel to Ennis. These units themselves were not fit for purpose. For confirmation, one only needs to look at various HIQA reports and a prosecution and conviction for failures in the Kilkenny unit. The units are overcrowded, leading to late admissions for Tipperary patients as well as early discharges. It is leading to serious transport difficulties for families and friends supporting patients. Outpatient services and community-based teams are understaffed and underfunded. They did not and still do not comply with A Vision for Change standards and staffing levels.
The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has accepted the closure of St. Michael's unit was wrong and should not have happened. I acknowledge the work done by the Minister of State, representatives of the Save of Our Acute Hospital Services committee and Members from Tipperary to reinstate inpatient beds in the county. I hope that work will come to fruition soon.
A specific promise made at the time of the closure was that there would be the construction of a purpose-built mental health crisis house in Clonmel. Seven years later, the public, patients and staff have seen little or no progress on this.
Will the Minister of State clarify the position regarding the construction of this unit? I have a number of questions for him which might help us ascertain exactly where this project is at. Will he indicate the timescale for the construction this crisis house project? Will he confirm that funding for it has been approved and is in place? Will he confirm also that the project and funding of it will not be affected by the overrun on the national children's hospital? Has formal approval for the project to go to tender been confirmed and, if so, when is it envisaged that will happen? When is it envisaged that construction will commence? Is there a targeted date for the completion of the construction of this unit?
The construction of a purpose built crisis house is urgently required. I ask the Minister of State to confirm today that it will be dealt with as a matter of urgency and that progress will be made in the tendering of the project and the commencement of construction of the unit.