Cllr Liam Quaide.

Little progress on mental health centre

No site has been identified and no development put in place for a new mental health unit in Midleton, 11 months after it was promised.

In May 2022, then chief officer for Cork/Kerry HSE Michael Fitzgerald announced plans to develop a 10 bed residential mental health facility in the town.

The new facility would serve to partially replace services lost in East Cork following the HSE’s controversial decision to close the Owenacurra mental health centre in 2021, which had a capacity for 20 single room placements. However, in a recent letter to Independent Cork County Cllr Liam Quaide, the HSE admitted it could not find any records of communications within the organisation regarding the development team.

Following receipt of the letter, Cllr Quaide said it seemed Mr Fitzgerald’s 2022 proposal for a 10 bed facility in Midleton had been “just rhetoric” and said no site had even been identified for the development, nor had any capital funding been secured.

“Under sustained pressure from the Owenacurra Centre campaign, the HSE announced in May 2022 they’d build a new 10 bed service for East Cork,” Cllr Quaide told the Cork Independent. 11 months on, the ‘development team’ tasked with planning the service has not yet even been formed.

“The people requiring these vital respite and long-term residential placements in East Cork have been strung along for another year."

Ireland’s national mental health policy, A Vision For Change, stipulates that 30 residential mental health care placements should be provided per 100,000 population.

The population of East Cork is expected to exceed 100,000 in the upcoming census and with the closure of Owenacurra, the number of short-term respite and long-stay residential placements in the East Cork region is now 0.

In a recent letter to the HSE, Dublin Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan, who has campaigned strongly against the closure of Owenacurra, asked for an update on the promised development team and what progress had been made in delivering the new 10 bed unit in Midleton.

In her response, HSE Interim Head of Mental Health Services, Julie O’Neill said the development team will only be appointed once the HSE receives capital approval for the unit.

Ms O’Neill wrote: “As you will be aware, the HSE will provide a new 10 bed rehabilitation residential unit in Midleton town.

“A development team will be appointed to conduct an options appraisal , and engage with people using mental health services in the area. The Owenacurra site will be among the possible locations considered.”

The decision to close the Owenacurra centre was made public in June 2021 by the Cork/Kerry Health Community, a division of the HSE, who deemed the 1970s building unsuitable for purpose.At the time of the announcement, the centre was home to 11 long-term residents, some of whom had been there for over 20 years.

There are now 3 residents remaining at the centre, with previous residents having been moved to other facilities in the county.

A HSE spokesperson said: “Plans for the new 10 bed rehab unit in Midleton are moving ahead and this unit will be an integral part of mental health residential services for the area.

“Tender documentation for the design stage has been submitted to the Government eTender website. This is a key step in the development of the unit as the tender will enable us to appoint a design team.”