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Reports of drug smuggling at psych unit ‘no surprise’


Hospital’s illicit drugs shock

HSE pledge 'swift' action after Gardaí visit Mental Health Unit

Ciara Galvin

An investigation into the alleged smuggling of cannabis and cocaine into the Acute Mental Health Unit at Mayo General Hospital is ongoing. The Garda Drugs Unit has visited the hospital unit, where visitors were reportedly smuggling drugs to patients. The HSE has issued a statement saying they are aware of the issue.
In a 2012 report by the Inspector of Mental Health Services, the Mayo General Hospital Acute Mental Health Unit was described as being ‘well managed’ on the night of the inspection and it was noted that ‘observation was carried out as prescribed’.
However, a Castlebar councillor has said it was ‘no surprise’ that drugs were reported to have been smuggled into the hospital unit, as services were being ‘cut to the bone’.
Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday (Monday), Cllr Michael Kilcoyne said he ‘wasn’t surprised at the stuff going on there’, claiming that staff shortages meant it was impossible to adequately deal with the problem.
A HSE statement seen by The Mayo News states: ‘Staff are vigilant at all times and are key to ensuring that patients are protected and cared for at all times.’
However, Cllr Kilcoyne disagreed with the statement, maintaining there wasn’t enough supervision in the unit. “The place is only half staffed, and the situation is getting worse,” said Kilcoyne, adding that the issue was not the fault of staff.
For its part, the HSE said it plans to take ‘swift and appropriate action’. “We are aware of a particular issue in relation to non-prescribed medication being brought into the ward by members of the public,” the statement read. “Misuse of non-prescribed and illegal drugs is a serious social and criminal issue that cannot be tolerated in a hospital setting.”
According to Cllr Kilcoyne, staff cuts have meant that the number of nurses working in Mayo Mental Health Services has been reduced from 260 to 140 in the last three years, impacting not only on supervision capacities, but also on levels of care.
“I’ve heard concerns about Mayo Mental Health Service and the level of care that is being provided. The staff are stretched to the limit and they can’t give the level of care they want to give,” he said.
He also stated his belief that a further ten nurses on part-time contracts are to be let go next month, which will stretch services coming into the summer, as staff take annual leave. “The prospects for the future is frightening,” said Kilcoyne.

Regular inspections
The statement by the HSE underscored the organisation’s efforts to to ensure compliant practicies: “The Acute Mental Health Unit at Mayo General is inspected regularly by the Mental Health Inspectorate and by An Bord Altranais to ensure our practices in all regards are compliant. In addition, regular internal audits are carried out to ensure compliance with best practice.”
The statement also maintained that there had been no issues in relation to the inappropriate prescribing of drugs or related issues to members of staff working within Mayo Mental Health Services. The Mayo News contacted HSE West in relation to the issue of the service’s policy on visitors to the unit and staffing shortages.
However, a response was not received at the time of going to press.

HAVE YOUR SAY email ciaragalvin@mayonews.ie with your comments