There was good news last week about the preservation of 12 beds at St Joseph’s District Hospital in Ballina, but yesterday (Monday) there was a big blow for mental health services, when it was announced that the residential psychiatric unit located at the hospital will close.
The closure will mean that patients using the five bed facility will be forced to travel to Castlebar for treatment, while a number of nursing staff will also have to transfer under the terms of the Croke Park Agreement.
Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary confirmed the closure and described the move as a “retrograde step which is not going to save any money.“ He added that it was a ‘dark day’ for mental health services in North Mayo.
“The HSE has confirmed plans to close the psychiatric unit at St Joseph’s District Hospital in Ballina this year. These damaging cuts were confirmed in the HSE West Service Plan published on Friday. This plan has been fully approved by the Minister for Health James Reilly, so the Government has given the go ahead for the removal of this vital local service.”
The psychiatric unit has ten nurses attached, and is currently treating 60 people. The facility also provides 24-hour nursing care to individuals with chronic mental illness. Day care services will remain, but in-patient beds including five respite care beds will be shut.
Deputy Calleary continued, “There is no doubt that patients will suffer as a result of these cuts. The acute unit in St. Teresa’s is already under enough stress, and this policy will put it under even more pressure.”
The Government were praised for allocating €35 million in funding and creating an additional 400 posts in the sector to aide mental health care during 2012 which was contained within their Programme for Government plan published last December.
However, Deputy Calleary questioned the rationale of dedicating €35 million and 400 new positions in a few months time to improve mental health services, while services are being closing down now.
“Why are we closing down services before we fill these positions? I cannot understand it.”
Deputy Calleary said he was relieved to see that Teach Aisling in Castlebar is being kept open and concluded, “I will continue to put pressure on the HSE and the Minister for Health to reconsider these dangerous cuts that will have long-term implications for communities in north Mayo.”
Chairman of Ballina Trades Council Matt Farrell has commended the collaborative role of staff, unions and the HSE for their successful negotiations after it was confirmed on Thursday that 12 beds on the female wing of St Joseph’s District Hospital will be saved, just one day before they were due to close.
On Thursday evening at 6pm a resolution was agreed after negotiations took place between the HSE, SIPTU, hospital staff and health carers.
The agreement was reached after existing staff said they would take on extra tasks so that contract cleaners would no longer be required.
The welcome development now means that the 12 beds which were due to close on Friday morning will now be retained and the facility will remain a 50-bed hospital. Mr Farrell said he was delighted that a resolution was eventually found.
Speaking on Friday Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin said she welcomed the news that the closure of 12 beds at Ballina District Hospital has been avoided.
She said she was delighted that following an agreement between the HSE and SIPTU Home Help workers will now be able to carry out cleaning duties at the hospital in the future.