Staff fear closure of St Michael’s unit is imminent

Eamonn Lacey

Eamonn Lacey

Clinical staff at St Michaels acute admission unit in Clonmel believe the HSE is set to announce the closure of the facility at South Tipperary General Hospital next week after engaging in an eighteen month battle to save the under threat unit.

St Michaels is due for re-registration as an approved centre next Tuesday, May 31, with time running out to implement recommendations made by the Mental Health Commission last March and staff at the unit believe the deadline is being deliberately ran down to bring about the closure of the unit.

In a statement the HSE said that the unit would not be closing before or on the 31st May.

The Save the Hospital Action Group have been attempting to meet with Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch since she was appointed to no avail and the group and the staff are holding out some hope that she may meet with them in advance of the deadline.

Clinical staff believe the inaction of local management in addressing the basic items set out by the MHC report was consistent with a pattern of behaviour by management that has existed for the last eighteen months since the previous government announced the proposed closure of the unit.

This week the General Practitioners in South Tipperary backed up the clinical staff at St. Michaels. They expressed their unanimous opposition to the planned closure of St. Michaels and recommend a substantial capital investment to make it ‘fit for purpose’ following years of ‘deliberate neglect by the HSE’.

“We believe that our patients require local accessible inpatient beds, rather than the proposed transportation to Kilkenny, while acutely unwell,” said the chairman of the South Tipperary ICGP Faculty Dr. B Morrissey.

The MHC report found fault with the decor and access to a garden which clinical staff believe could be resolved with the expenditure of between €70,000 and €100,000.

“In the absence of the management drawing up a plan to carry out these works the clinical staff had to make a recent submission on the matter outlining the works required,” said Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Alan Moore.

“Despite repeated written requests by clinicians to management to achieve compliance by the May 31 date they have not responded. This is very clearly in line with their wish to close us down at all costs,” said Dr. Moore.

This week Dr. Moore expressed the fears of the entire staff at St. Michaels when he said there was intense concern that the Mental Health Commission may be poised to close St. Michaels unit at any moment. He said that the Commission had the power to make such a move and was due to renew the registration of the unit on May 31.

“In its last report in March 2011, which relates to the inspection visit in August 2010, the commission praised the efforts of staff to provide a good service but made eight recommendations. These relate to four clinical areas which have all been addressed. The remainder have to do with basic maintenance and minor building works. Unfortunately these have not been addressed by HSE management despite requests from staff. The unit is therefore liable to have its registration suspended and a closure order imposed,” said Dr.Moore.

He said that the management were deliberately allowing the deadline to run down and frontline staff believe that closure of the unit would be completely consistent with management wishes and in keeping with the pattern of management behaviour.

In January of last year the proposed closure of the unit was announced by management and since then the clinical staff who work in the mental health services in South Tipperary have been engaged in a struggle with the HSE South to defend their inpatient unit.

Over the eighteen month period clinical staff have stated their intention to save the unit against what they believe is a systematic campaign by senior management to discredit and smear the St. Michaels facility so that it can be shut down to save money and move more acute services to Kilkenny.

Dr. Moore said that there was no support in South Tipp among services users, carers or professions for the concept of admitting the most acutely disturbed sufferers from mental illness to the acute unit in Kilkenny.

It was regrettable that the most sensible option - a 20-25 bed admission unit which could be created from the existing St. Michaels building and would include a garden and proper visiting facilities for relatives had never been explored or costed.