The Oireachtas Health Committee has urged the HSE to reverse its decision to close the Owenacurra mental health centre in Midleton.

Owenacurra decision under fire

The HSE’s decision to proceed with the closure of the Owenacurra mental health care facility will give the organisation “carte blanche” in its future handling of vulnerable people, a Cork councillor has said.

Speaking in the wake of the Oireachtas Health Committee’s latest letter to the HSE Board calling for a reverse of the decision to close the centre in Midleton, Green Party Cllr Liam Quaide said the HSE Board’s failure to intervene goes against its own policy and will set precedent for future decisions.

“This failure to intervene has given the HSE carte blanche to move highly vulnerable people to very questionable accommodation, contradicting its own closure rationale,” Cllr Quaide told the Cork Independent.

In its recent letter, the Oireachtas Health Committee expressed its “serious concern” that the HSE has proceeded with the closure of the centre despite residents now being offered placements at ward-based settings with significantly lower Mental Health Commission compliance ratings than the Owenacurra Centre.

The Oireachtas Health Committee also raised concern over a number of Owenacurra Centre residents being offered temporary accommodation at a facility in Cork city which the HSE will not continue to rent beyond the first quarter of 2023.

Committee Chair Seán Crowe TD wrote: “This involves moving highly vulnerable people from one situation of prolonged uncertainty to another.”

The deputy wrote: “Placement offers in St Finbarr’s Hospital and St Stephen’s Hospital entirely contradict the message conveyed to Owenacurra Centre residents in a letter from local management on 28 June 2021 which suggested that they were being moved because they deserved a better quality premises.”

Mr Crowe also said that no paper trail exists of the clinical decision-making that led to the Owenacurra Centre closure decision.

He said: “There are records of a building rationale provided but no written consideration of the removal of services and its implications in the lead-up to that decision being made in an un-minuted meeting on 22 June 2021.”

In a statement addressing the decision, the Cork Kerry/Community Healthcare, a division of the HSE, said the decision to close the Owenacurra Centre was “very difficult, but unfortunately necessary”.

The statement read: “Residents at the Owenacurra Centre are under the care of a consultant psychiatrist and any placements offered to them meet their needs, as assessed by clinical experts.”

“It is not possible to keep the Owenacurra Centre open. No refurbishment could deliver the quality of accommodation which residents deserve, in line with modern requirements and standards within a realistic budget.”

Original decision

In June 2021, the HSE announced that the Owenacurra long-term mental health care centre in Midleton, which was home to 19 residents at the time, was to be closed.

Families of residents were told that the building was no longer fit for purpose and that their loved ones, some of whom had been at the centre for over 20 years, would be transferred to alternative facilities in the county.

The decision to close the centre also appears to be at odds with Ireland’s model of mental health service provision A Vision for Change which stipulates that there should be 30 placements in every region of the country, Cllr Quaide has previously stated.

The closure of the Owenacurra Centre brings East Cork’s mental healthcare placements from 24 to 0.