Feelings are running high over plans by the HSE West to move its alcohol addiction counselling service to the psychiatric unit at University Hospital Galway.
The service, which is believed to cater for about 50 people daily, has been based at a unit on the grounds of Merlin Park Hospital.
However, it is currently accommodated in a temporary premises there following a fire which caused extensive damage to the facility.
No-one was injured in the blaze which took place in the early hours of September 20.
Now the local health authority plans to move the addiction counselling service permanently to UHG’s psychiatric unit.
There has been strong public condemnation for this proposal with people, especially clients, expressing fears that this would “stigmatise” service users.
One female client said confidentiality, privacy and ease of access in terms of parking and user friendliness are very important factors for service users. The location of the current centre in a very private area is particularly suitable for clients, they say.
Local Senator Fidelma Healy Eames states the feeling on the ground is that the service should remain in Merlin Park.
“The calls I have received from the public would strongly advocate retaining the service in its current location.”
The Galway team exceed the national average in terms of, for example, women accessing the service and they attribute this to the key factors outlined by the female client quoted, she says.
The Oranmore based politician claims that moving the service to “what was built as an interim secure unit within the psychiatric unit, would deliberately hospitalise and stigmatise” clients.
“This runs counter to current best practice as outlined in the “Vision for Change” Government policy document. Indeed, it has always been the view that this service should be in a community setting and Merlin is far closer to that ideal than a congested UHG.”
She has been in contact with local HSE management to relay the feedback she has received from service users.
“The overwhelming view is that users of the service feel they have a sense of privacy and no fuss in the current location and that they are happy to continue to use the service at the temporary location on Merlin’s grounds.
“I was delighted to learn too that the employees of the drug and alcohol addiction counselling service are happy to stay at this location in Merlin Park adding up to value for money.”
She outlines that while she understands the value of mental health staff being located close to clinical teams she believes “improved communication” can still be achieved in “various ways”.
“But this does not outweigh the importance of the use of the popular service by clients from 18 to 80 years of age.”
The independent Reform Alliance senator is urging the public to take a stand on the issue and to campaign to retain this service at Merlin Park.
“I would urge all concerned therefore to work together to agree a solution that puts service users first so they may optimise the use and support of the service. After all these can be very vulnerable clients.”
Alcohol counselling programmes are run on an out-patient basis. The service also provides long term support for participants and families experiencing alcohol problems as well as information, education and advice.