28 Sept 2022

Department of Psychiatry at St Luke's Hospital prosecuted over dirty and undignified conditions

The case was the first of its kind taken by the Mental Health Commission against the HSE

Department of Psychiatry at St Luke's Hospital prosecuted over dirty

File pic of makeshift beds at the Department of Psychiatry

Appalling conditions at the Department of Psychiatry were outlined during a court hearing in Kilkenny on Monday. 

The case was the first of its kind taken by the Mental Health Commission against the HSE under the Mental Health Act. 

The court heard that the HSE were pleading to four charges relating to conditions at the Department of Psychiatry.

The failures relate to an unannounced inspection which took place at the psychiatric facility between November 6 and 9 by the Mental Health Commission.

Judge Bran O'Shea imposed fines totalling €5,200.

Judge O'Shea heard that the hospital had failed to ensure the premises met the needs of patients, it was not clean and a programme of maintenance was not in place.

"The inspectorate function of the Mental Health Commission is a hugely important one," he said.

"For too long in this country, mental health issues have been ignored and stigmatised. The testimony of the inspectors and photographs [taken during the inspection] are the physical manifestation of that lack of care.

"What makes this worse is that the facilities here are those that house the most vulnerable people. Those people matter and the environment in which they are cared for matters," the judge said, adding that were it not for the inspection process, there would be "no mechanism" to bring such conditions to the outside world.

Judge O'Shea said that a comment made by assistant inspector Martin McMenamin that the state of the facility in Kilkenny "runs counter to everything a hospital should stand for" speaks volumes about the offences detected.

He didn't accept an "over-capacity argument" put forward by the HSE as part of the reason for the sub-standard conditions at the time "as much more than an excuse".

The seclusion facilities were also not found to be clean or maintained to ensure the privacy of patients was respected.

Inspectors also found the seclusion register had not been signed by a consultant for one patient, as required.

Martin McMenamin, Assistant Inspector with the Mental Health Commission outlined how  the seclusion room had ingrained dirt on the floor.

He said there were also patches of food on the floor and that the the air was stale. He also told the court there were no windows for natural light and the ventilation system was clogged.

Mr McMenamin said it was an affront to a patients' dignity to be placed in these conditions.

In another room with six patients, there was an open urine bottle, partially filled, close to drinking cups.

Mr McMenamin said that going into a treatment room, inspectors were almost assaulted by the smell and found a colostomy bag there.

The court has heard that the HSE has spent over €1m to bring the psychiatric unit at St Luke’s up to the standards required. A new company has been employed to do deep cleaning, and hygiene audits are being done.

Judge Brian O'Shea imposed fines totaling €5,200 on the HSE for the failures at the St Luke’s Hospital psychiatric unit.

He said that these facilities house the most vulnerable people and if it were not for the Mental Health Commission, the conditions would not be brought to the outside world.

He also noted the evidence of Mr McMenamin that the state of the facility ran contrary to everything a hospital should stand for.

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