Press Release

Report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals

Mr Brian Cowen, TD, Minister for Health and Children, today (Monday,18 May,1998) laid the Annual Report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals for 1996 before both Houses of the Oireachtas and forwarded a copy to the President of the High Court.

The Inspector has a statutory obligation to inspect every psychiatric hospital and unit in the country at least once a year. The report published today is a summary of the Inspector’s findings, following his inspections in 1996.

In his report for 1996, the Inspector highlights and is complimentary of the further improvements which have taken place in the mental health services. The Inspector notes that the continued development in 1996 of a comprehensive and integrated community-based mental health service was characterised by the ongoing reduction in the number of patients resident in psychiatric hospitals through rehabilitation of long-stay patients, the transfer of acute psychiatric hospital care to acute psychiatric units in general hospitals and the further extension of community-based services. The number of patients in psychiatric hospitals has fallen from 6,879 in 1991 to 5,047 in 1996.

The Inspector welcomes, in particular, the opening of a further two new psychiatric units at Bantry and Navan General Hospitals during 1996 and while recognising that “progress has been made in developing acute psychiatric in-patient facilities, much remains to be done”.

While the Inspector is pleased to note the opening of ten additional beds in a new unit in the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, Dublin, he is concerned about the reluctance of some mental health services to accept the transfer of patients under Section 207 of the Mental Treatment Act, 1945 from the Central Mental Hospital to their local service.

He comments favourably on the continued extension of the Registration Diploma Programme in psychiatric nursing and the establishment of a Central Nursing Application Centre. The Inspector welcomes ” this challenging period in psychiatric nurse education and training”.

The Inspector acknowledges in his report for 1996 the continued development of community based mental health services. He is however, critical of physical conditions which still pertain in a number of district mental hospitals. He is particularly critical of certain areas of St Loman’s Hospital, Mullingar and St Brendan’s and St Ita’s Hospitals, Dublin. Considerable progress has been made in the intervening period to upgrade both the accommodation and facilities at each of these hospitals.

The No Fixed Abode Unit at St Brendan’s Hospital has been refurbished and the day programmes and outreach services for homeless mentally ill have been transferred from St Brendan’s Hospital to a much enhanced community facility at Usher’s Island. Units 1A, 2A and 10B at the hospital have closed and patients have been relocated to more suitable accommodation. Special care units for the assessment of the disturbed mentally ill were also commissioned.

Substantial refurbishment and upgrading of accommodation was undertaken in St Ita’s Hospital and the Minister has recently provided capital funding of £550,000 to enable major improvements to be carried out to the admission and assessment facilities and £250,000 for the establishment of a special maintenance programme for the mental handicap services at St Ita’s. Discussions are under way for the provision of a modern acute psychiatric unit in Beaumont Hospital to replace acute in-patient facilities which are at present provided at St Ita’s. Community-based services were further developed with the acquisition of several community residences, a new day hospital opened in Swords and similar facilities were commissioned for Balbriggan and Coolock.

The Midland Health Board has carried out general upgrading of the Admission Unit at St Loman’s Hospital to include re-roofing and replacement of windows and further improvements are planned in respect of admission facilities and in a number of other ward areas.

Commenting on the publication of the Report, Minister Cowen said ” I fully support the health services aim to achieve the best quality of life for each individual through the provision of high quality, patient-centred services. I consider the role of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals an important element in achieving this aim. I welcome the publication of the Inspector’s Report for 1996. The mental health services are striving to provide a seamless service to patients and their families, measured by ease of access, appropriateness and responsiveness to the needs of patients. The mental health services are working closely to the planned framework for the development of the services identified in the report – Planning for the Future which was published in 1984 and reinforced in the Government Health Strategy for effective healthcare in the 1990s – Shaping a Healthier Future.

“I acknowledge the influence of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals and his team in the improvement of standards of care in our mental health services. These improvements are documented in this latest report which is most encouraging”. Minister Cowen added that he was “pleased with the progress being made in the development of our mental health services “, while recognising that “we still have some distance to go in the provision of a comprehensive community based mental health service”. He stressed the importance and benefit of publishing the Inspector’s reports in the year following inspection and pledged his support to ensure that the 1997 report is published as soon as possible.