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Minister denies resource issue in area where 13 patients have died by suicide

Nine psychiatrists have withdrawn confidence in the clinical management of the mental health service in the Carlow-Kilkenny-South Tipperary.

Updated: 8.20pm

KATHLEEEN LYNCH HAS denied there is a shortage of mental health staff in the Carlow-Kilkenny-South Tipperary area after it emerged that nine senior doctors have withdrawn confidence in the service.

Some 13 patients have died by suicide in the area in the last two years, with a further four “serious incidents” being recorded.

The group of nine consultant psychiatrists wrote to Lynch, the junior minister with responsibility for mental health, in June 2013 to express their “serious concerns” about local services in light of nine fatalities from August 2011 to January 2013.

These included three suicides of in-patients by the same means, four suicides in home-based settings and a further suicide in a crisis house.

Four more deaths by suicide have since occurred.

RTÉ’s This Week programme received the letter under the Freedom of Information Act.

‘No resource issue’

Speaking on the radio show today, Lynch denied that she had ignored the doctors’ concerns, noting that she had passed the information on to the HSE.

She said that the Carlow-Kilkenny-South Tipperary mental health service “one of the best-resourced services in the country” with 658 employees.

“There is no resource issue there,” she stated.

Lynch said that a report into services in the area was commissioned in December 2013.

When asked why there was a six-month gap from her receiving the letter to the establishment of the report, she said “I felt there wasn’t a need for [a report before then].”

I’m a great believer in checking your facts … and getting outside experts to come in a take a look.

Lynch asked the nine doctors who sent the letter to engage in discussions with the department of health, the HSE and the Mental Health Commission.

The nine senior doctors raised their concerns with the HSE about the management of the service in November 2012 and on a number of subsequent occasions.

‘Incredibly alarmed’

Dr Alan Moore, a retired psychiatrist from the area, said that the doctors had received “no adequate response” from Lynch or the HSE.

He said the number of patients’ deaths by suicide were “extraordinary”, adding he was ”incredibly alarmed by the lack of action”.

Dr Moore noted that he expected ”a much more robust and instant response” given the ”unusual and very high number of tragedies being reported”.

The HSE has previously stated that the number of deaths by service users were in line with figures from previous years.

Dr Damien Sharpe, a GP working in Clonmel, said that the home-based treatment teams, which cover 100,000 people, were under-staffed.

Lynch denied this, saying they had 200 employees.

Dr Sharpe said that the nine doctors ”have been going through the proper channels all along but my feeling is that they haven’t been listened to”.

The service in its current format is not working … it has in the past and it continues to fail its patients.

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Lynch said that the report into services in the area was due soon and she would act on its recommendations.
“When we get a report that people are dying within the service … we take it very, very seriously,” she added.

‘Wake-up call’

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Mental Health, Colm Keaveney, said the number of deaths were “harrowing and should be a serve as a wake-up call” for Lynch and her department.

“The Minister claims that the service in Carlow-Kilkenny-South Tipperary is the best resourced in the country, so why are the suicide and self-harm numbers so high?

“The current system is not working and it must be changed to meet the needs of service users. The only way this can be done is speaking with nurses, doctors and patients, not so-called experts who have no appreciation for the situation within these institutions and in the homes of service users,” Keaveney stated.

Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said it was ”very serious” that the psychiatrists had withdrawn their confidence in the HSE management of the service.

He called on Lynch to come before the Dáil this week and “explain how this situation has arisen and what she is going to do about it.”

Originally published: 2.56pm

Helplines:

  • Console 1800 201 890 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie - (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Read: Improved mental health supports needed for Irish families

Read: Struggling with your mental health, but don’t know where to turn? This can help

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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