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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Sam Boal via Keltoi is located at St Mary's Hospital in the Phoenix Park

'No plans' to reinstate HSE rehab unit closed during pandemic

The Keltoi Rehab Unit was converted to an isolation facility, with previous Health Minister Simon Harris promising its reopening.

“THERE ARE NO plans” to reinstate a HSE drug rehab unit closed 18 months ago and now operating as a Covid isolation facility. 

That is according to a HSE response this month, seen by Noteworthy, to a parliamentary question (PQ) on the Keltoi Rehab Unit in Dublin.

Tom O’Brien, Head of Service Primary Care stated that it “continues to be required as a Social Inclusion Covid Isolation facility” with no plans “at present to revert to its use as a residential addiction unit”. 

A HSE spokesperson told Noteworthy that it was “temporarily closed in March 2020 to provide an isolation facility to the vulnerable cohort of the population who were unable to avail of the isolation facilities coordinated by Public Health”. They added it continues to be required for this purpose and this requirement “is kept under continued review”.

The HSE response follows a statement by Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy Frank Feighan in June that “it is anticipated that Keltoi would be required [as a Covid-19 response] for the foreseeable future”.

  • Read more here on how to support a major Noteworthy project to investigate why people are waiting up to two years for a drug detox bed.

Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould who tabled the PQ told Noteworthy that “the failure to reopen Keltoi is extremely disappointing and the loss of this facility has been a huge blow to those in addiction”.

He added that “it is disgraceful that there is still no plan and yet, restrictions are to be lifted in six weeks time”.

A HSE spokesperson told Noteworthy that ”the HSE remain committed to enhancing the residential addiction services provided within Community Healthcare Organisation Dublin North City and this includes the reopening of the Keltoi facility once it is no longer required as part of the Covid-19 response”. However, no timeline or reopening date was provided. 

Gary Broderick, director of Saol Project, an addiction rehabilitation day service for women, said that it’s disappointing that the HSE don’t have a clear date for reopening given the long waiting list for residential settings. He added that this would enable them to work with people knowing that care in Keltoi was a possibility. 

“It’s a service that’s been crucially important,” according to Anna Quigley, coordinator of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign. She also felt that a clearer answer is required as to the future of the facility. “No plans is not adequate – it’s such a frustrating answer.”

Harris promised reopening  

Keltoi hit headlines when two service users died soon after its closure. When this was brought up in the Dáil in June 2020, then Minister for Health Simon Harris stated that “it is the intention to reopen the services”.

Of Keltoi, Gould said that “the level of wraparound and post-residential support that was available to people is unmatched anywhere else”. He added: 

We need more state-run secular addiction services in this state, closing them down is not the solution.

The Keltoi Residential Unit provided an average 52 treatment beds per year as follow on to participants completing a residential detox program before its closure last year. 

In the response to Gould, the HSE stated that it continues “to organise placements in a number of other Tier 4 residential treatment service providers with additional beds purchased to meet demand”. 

Broderick welcomed the purchase of additional beds but he said that Keltoi offered a “trauma informed service” which he said “is very necessary for people in early recovery” to help manage feelings once the drug or alcohol is gone and strengthen recovery.

	 Quote from Gary Broderick, Saol Project - Keltoi provided a service that was trauma-informed in its approach.  It's a shame to have lost that, particularly in working with women where trauma is such a huge part of the story.

An external review was commissioned after Keltoi’s closure which has yet to be published. A HSE spokesperson told Noteworthy that it has been completed and the relevant Community Healthcare Organisations “are engaged with both staff and their unions regarding implementing the recommendations from this review”.

Gould told Noteworthy he has been refused an FOI seeking this report which he said “was commissioned after serious concerns were raised by staff about the closure”. He added: 

“We need the publication of that report now because we need to know how vulnerable people were protected when Keltoi closed.”

Hundreds of beds closed

Drug use in Ireland increased over the past decade and the number of new people being treated for drug abuse has also grown.

However, Noteworthy previously revealed that over 3,500 people were waiting for a drug or alcohol detox bed in Ireland, as of February 2021, with over 2,200 on the waiting list for at least nine months. 

Between December 2019 and June 2020, 170 residential beds were closed. A number of these had reopened by November last year but 143 remained closed around the country, according to HSE data released to Noteworthy.  

In addition to Keltoi, more than half of the HSE’s detox beds were also closed during the pandemic when St Michael’s Ward in Beaumont Hospital was converted to a Covid-19 vaccination centre

Since June, this ward “has reverted to its previous designation”, according to a spokesperson for the hospital.    

When asked for an update on the waiting list and the closure of drug and alcohol residential beds across the country, a spokesperson for the HSE said that “residential services are still operating within public health restrictions”.

They added that “the Department of Health has released additional funding to procure additional treatment episodes”.

REHAB WAIT Investigation

Why are people waiting up to two years for a drug detox bed?

Through Noteworthy, we want to do an in-depth investigation into the impact of waiting to detox on people’s recovery as well as the pressure that drug service providers are under due to this bed shortage. 

Here’s how to help support this proposal>

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