On the eve of a Bank Holiday weekend, and on the day that the Fiscal Treaty referendum result was the top news story, HSE South chose their moment to announce the date of the closure of St Michaels Acute Psychiatric Unit in Clonmel, a decision which has been the subject of ongoing intense discussion and media interest for two and a half years.
In a press statement on Friday 1st June the HSE stated that acute admissions to St Michaels will cease from Tuesday 5th June. The announcement was contained in a lengthy press briefing which claimed that all the necessary community alternatives to hospital admission are in place across the South Tipperary/Carlow/Kilkenny catchment area which will now be served by a single admission unit in St Lukes Kilkenny.
The Clonmel based “Save our Acute Hospital Services” Committee who have been fighting the closure plan since it was announced without consultation in January 2010, have responded angrily to the news. This Committee , in tandem with the Cashel Hospital Action Committee recently and unsuccessfully attempted in the High Court to injunct the HSE from closure by invoking a previous High Court judgment from 1996 signed by the then Minister for Health Michael Noonan. Committee members contacted by the Irish Times/other newspapers, made the following points regarding the HSE’s latest announcement:
“The closure announcement is wrong and unjustified on many levels. Firstly, the recent High Court judgment by the President of the High Court Nicholas Kearns has not yet been delivered in written form which prevents an appeal to the Supreme Court being mounted. It is therefore unjustified to proceed in the interim until the issue of an appeal is dealt with .
Secondly, at a meeting on 21st May last, with TD’s Seamus Healy, Tom Hayes and Mattie McGrath, the Minister for Health James Reilly agreed to consider their request to retain a small psychiatric unit within South Tipperary General Hospital. This request was in line with a letter to the Minister by a delegation of South Tipperary doctors who wrote to Dr Reilly on 15th May in which they expressed grave concerns about the potential consequences of the HSE plans, and also requested a meeting with him.
Thirdly, the Save Our Acute Hospital Services Committee have particular and immediate safety concerns regarding the assessment and transport of patients. With the closure of St Michaels there will be no dedicated place of safety to assess and hold acutely ill patients , and in addition there is intense concern about the capacity of ambulance, gardai and nurse escorts to accompany acutely ill patients from South Tipperary to Kilkenny when admission is required, and of the capacity of the Kilkenny unit to accommodate up to 29 extra patients.
Finally, the committee’s longstanding objections to the closure plan remain. The closure of St Michaels will disadvantage the most severely unwell patients and their families who will become dislocated both from their loved ones and also from their community teams. Both continuity of care, and family visits to persons with acute psychiatric illness are key to a speedy recovery and both will be greatly reduced by this move.
The closure is also a body blow to South Tipperary General Hospital which has a proud tradition of successful collocation of acute psychiatry and medicine dating back to 1968, the year St Michaels was opened.
The Committee are now demanding a moratorium on the closure decision and the direct intervention of the Minister to review their safety and other concerns as a matter of priority.