Wednesday, 22 September 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla — Topical Issue Debate
Mental Health Services
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. Significant Government funding in 2021 means that the mental health budget is now in excess of €1.1 billion. The HSE is providing approximately €139 million this year for mental health services in community healthcare organisation, CHO, 4, which includes east Cork.
I appreciate that this topic has been raised by the Deputy in the context of the closure of the Owenacurra centre, and I acknowledge that we have discussed this matter on many occasions, even as late as yesterday. I thank him for his ongoing and constructive engagement on the closure and the transfer of residents to other healthcare services. The decision to close the Owenacurra centre has not been taken lightly and has been made on the basis that it is not fit for purpose. Significant concerns have been raised by HSE estates, the Mental Health Commission and independent reports on the condition of the building.
It is important to talk about the timeline. On 30 March 2021, the Mental Health Commission corresponded with the chief fire officer of Cork County Council, referring the matter of fire safety issues for its consideration and sharing the Maurice Johnson & Partners report. The HSE used its own report on the building as well as two independent reports. The chief fire officer and building control officer with Cork County Council wrote to mental health services on 13 April 2021 to raise concerns. On 18 June, HSE estates warned that it had discovered that the building was in poor and unacceptable condition with major defects. It stated that even if refurbishment took place, it could not guarantee that the refurbished building would meet current building requirements or be regarded as fit for purpose. While there was no immediate danger or risk to anyone, it was made clear that no amount of expenditure could bring the building to an acceptable standard.
I have been in touch with the HSE on a regular basis regarding this matter and I reassure the Deputy that in the context of the closure, the priority of the HSE and my priority is the welfare of the 19 residents. A needs assessment has been carried out for each resident to inform discussions around relocation with residents, their families and the multidisciplinary teams. While some people may require ongoing continuing care, others will be facilitated to live in lower support settings, based on their needs. Information on this was provided at yesterday's meeting of the Sub-Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Senator Black, which the Deputy attended. The multidisciplinary teams have met all residents and their families, with the exception of one family, with whom a meeting is scheduled for this week, to discuss their options, with the will and preferences of each resident being of central importance.
I am also aware that it was acknowledged by the HSE at yesterday's meeting of the Sub-Committee on Mental Health that communication processes with residents and families will be reviewed. I discussed this with the chief officer for mental health last night and he has given me a guarantee that this area will be reviewed. A member from the independent Irish Advocacy Network is part of the project steering group, in addition to a mental health service user family member and carer engagement representative. This is to ensure that residents and families continue to have independent supports available throughout the process.
In terms of mental health services generally in the Cork area, the HSE provides a wide range of community and hospital-based mental health services. I am also aware that a day-care centre operates out of the Owenacurra facility and I made it clear again last night to the area lead for mental health in CHO 4 that a temporary premises must be found immediately while a permanent solution is being put in place.