St Brigid campaigners continue fight as Seanad debate begins

HSE attempt to remove five pyschiatric beds stopped by campaigners

As the Seanad debated the removal of psychiatric beds from mental health units, including St Brigid’s Hospital in Ballinasloe, campaign groups vowed to continue their fight until an independent review is granted.

Speaking minutes before the debate was due to start at 4pm yesterday, Arthur Carr, member of Galway East Life Support Group and East Galway Mental Health Action Group told the Advertiser that campaigners “will not give up the fight until the last breath is gone” and that a vigil will be maintained at St Brigid’s in Ballinasloe until “politicians see sense”.

Earlier yesterday, buses carrying up to 200 campaign members made their way to Dáil Éireann to highlight their concerns and to support the motion put forward by Fianna Fáil senators calling for a full independent review of the decision to shut down the €3.1 million acute mental health unit at St Brigid’s Hospital. The motion also called for an immediate stay on the closure of acute in-patient bed units at three other units - St Stephen’s Hospital in Glamire, Co Cork, Carrig Mór Mental Health in Shanakiel in Cork city, and Toghermore House in Co Galway - until adequate community-based services are put in place for people with mental health difficulties.

A plan to remove 22 beds from St Brigid’s was first announced last summer as part of the ‘Vision for Change’ plan. A three phased reconfiguration of the mental health services is currently taking place with 50 beds to go UHG and 22 in Roscommon.

On January 17 this year the HSE succeeded in taking away five psychiatric beds, however a further attempt to take five more was thwarted on Tuesday night. The determination of campaigners in Ballinasloe was clearly proven when up to 200 people took just 15 minutes to mobilise and gather at the gates of St Brigid’s at 6pm to stop a private removal company from taking the beds.

According to Mr Carr 600 people signed up to a text alert system following a public meeting at Gullane’s Hotel on Sunday. When word got out about the attempt by the HSE to take a further five beds mass texts were sent out and campaigners arrived to hold a peaceful protest. “The vans could leave but the beds could not,” said Mr Carr, who explained there are concerns over the falling standard of care in the community.

“It’s just not acceptable. We’ll be keeping a vigil at the gate of the unit as long as is necessary to ensure no beds are taken. There are about 200 people in Dublin, supporting the senators, and if passed the Government will have to listen to us and allow an independent review of the scoring system. The scoring system was done in 2006 as part of the ‘Vision for Change’ with the intention of improving mental health services, instead they have dismantled it. Twelve to 15 people a week are lost to suicide in Ireland, closing our mental health units is just not the way to do it. What chance have people who are totally unstable in an overcrowded A&E.”

Yesterday morning Minister with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch denied facilities in Galway and Roscommon are overcrowded and vowed there would be no U-turn on bed closures at St Brigids Hospital.

However calls for an independent review continued to flood in, with Independent MEP Marian Harkin stating: “The decision to relocate to Galway city defies logic especially in view of the fact that St Brigid’s provides an excellent service in purpose built easily accessible facilities. In contrast the Galway location at UHG is congested, not easily accessed, and in need of significant upgrade. The decision to direct south Roscommon patients to Roscommon hospital also makes no sense having regard to the deficit of services there.”


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