Tuesday evening saw Minister Butler step in for Minister Stephen Donnelly and take questions from Independent TD’s. Michael Lowry questioned the Minister about the lack of beds and ongoing mental health crisis faced in Tipperary. He pointed out that last week the HSE head of operations said that there has been a significant increase’ in the need for mental health services which were already over stretched before Covid 19 and expressed the need for immediate action with regard Tipperary.
Minister Butler responded and referred to her three visits to Tipperary and made a further visit to the Department of Psychiatry in Kilkenny. Minister Butler proceeded to say that she was ‘acutely aware’ of the frustrations at the lack of beds in Tipperary but that Kilkenny’s hospital was at a capacity of 80%.
Deputy Lowry pointed out that we are left without a single acute mental health and than expressed that the neglect of mental health patients in Tipperary is “indefensible” and bordering on “irresponsible”. Minister Butler deflected and gave commitment to JIGSAW by the end of the year, €2m under the budget estimates for the crisis house in Tipperary which is not for purpose and to look at bed capacity in the new year for the whole country. Michael Lowry was adamant that the situation needs to be addressed and said “The reality is that the mental health budget is 6% of the overall health budget in Ireland… and with regard to Tipperary, at a time when we have increased levels of depression, isolation and loneliness and at a time of huge vulnerability, the mental health patients in Tipperary are reaching out to an empty space.” Minister Butler than referred, again, to her past visit to Tipperary and her meeting with a 24 hour nurse on duty who looks after voluntary and involuntary admissions to Kilkenny. She expressed that many parts of the country would be ‘delighted’ to have the services we have in Clonmel and Tipperary.
On Thursday, Mattie McGrath TD also raised the issue again in the Dail with Tanaiste Leo Varadker TD. Deputy McGrath said that the mental health was acknowledged by Jim Daly TD (former Minister for Mental Health) and that there was a deficit of 20 beds with “not a single long stay bed in Tipperary”, that Minister Jim Daly promised to deliver beds. In relation to the status of this promise, he said “Officials have led the current Minister her to believe that this was never a commitment… there’s people being turned away from the hospital day in, day out, many of them ending up suicide…it’s not an added on extra, its a desperately, desperately needed service for the county and to have patients back to their families in good health… With the closure of St Michaels in Clonmel, people have no place to go”. The Tanaiste acknowledged that with Covid-19, peoples mental health has sufferred. He stated that self-harm and suicide rates have decreased in the country but did not answer Deputy McGrath’s question as to why the government have stopped collating self-harm and suicide statistics. In relation to beds in Tipperary, the Tanaiste said he would have to ask Minister Butler to make contact to Deputy McGrath directly.