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Patients sleeping on floor of Waterford psychiatric unit described as 'shocking'

A HSE official has said the situation in Waterford cannot be defended.
Nov 1st 2019, 3:11 PM 38,946 78

UNPRECEDENTED LEVELS OF overcrowding in the psychiatric unit at University Hospital Waterford have been described as “not acceptable”.

Photographs emerged this week of conditions at the 44-bed unit, which showed patients lying on the floor and chairs being used as temporary beds.

Chief Officer with South East Community Healthcare Kate Killeen White apologised to affected patients and gave assurances around safety on RTÉ’s News at One.

She said the conditions were “not ideal and not acceptable”. 

“I cannot defend the situation presenting in Waterford,” she told the radio programme. 

The unit is currently caring for 47 patients, she said, adding that “staff are doing all they can” to provide safe care for people.

The Mental Health Commission has said it has been made aware of 54 residents being treated in this service, with five residents forced to sleep on chairs. 

“This is an absolutely unacceptable situation, and one which we are approaching with the utmost of seriousness,” said Chief Executive of the Mental Health Commission, John Farrelly.

Farrelly added that the commission has organised a meeting with the HSE National Director of Community Operations David Walsh to “discern how the HSE plans to implement effective governance and management” to deal with the situation in this unit. 

Killeen White said that the unit does have staff vacancies in nursing and medical roles. 

She added that “the reality is the demand often exceeds supply”, stating that “it is not the ideal way we wish to deliver services”. She paid tribute to the staff who continue to maintain the safety and well-being of patients.  

‘Shocking’

Fianna Fáil Waterford TD Mary Butler said the shocking images emerging of patients sleeping on the floor and on chairs “has absolutely shocked the entire nation”.

She said the images follow a damning report from the Mental Health Commission on the unit, which found that it had a mere 57% compliance rate this year.

“The report outlined serious concerns with children being admitted to adult units, physical examinations, staffing issues and the use of physical restraint,” she said.

PHOTO-2019-11-01-13-22-45

“Anyone with a loved one in this unit will be rightly concerned. I have no doubt that the staff in the wards are doing all they can to give the best care and attention to the residents, however severe staff shortages are undoubtedly having an impact.

“It’s time for the Minister with Responsibility for Mental Health to take ownership of the situation and explain why standards are slipping so drastically. The issues highlighted are simply not acceptable and must be addressed as a matter of urgency,” she said. 

Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Cullinane has said he is “shocked, but sadly not surprised” by the photos. 

“I am utterly shocked by the photos that have emerged of the intolerable conditions of the psychiatric unit in Waterford, of beds made from chairs while other patients sleep on floors,” he said. 

He too highlighted the recent report on the unit by the Mental Health Commission, where he said residents were found not have access to a supply of appropriate emergency personal clothing, and that the centre was not clean, hygienic and free from offensive odours.

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‘Staff not to blame’

“Words are one thing; we now have photographic evidence revealing a unit that is operating under conditions that would make a Victorian workhouse blush. The staff are not to blame here; they are operating under incredible stress and distress,” said Cullinane. 

“Both the Minister and the HSE know that is about funding and resources. Yet, despite this, they refuse to do anything about it,” he added.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Mental Health James Browne described the photos of people sleeping on floors and on chairs as unacceptable and shocking.

He said the case required direct intervention from the Minister of State for Mental Health Jim Daly.

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Christina Finn

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