Hospital staff attack plan for relocation to prison site

13 August 2004
By Cormac O’Keeffe

MEDICAL staff at the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) are strongly opposed to proposals within Government to relocate the hospital to a prison complex site.
Hospital sources are understood to be using internal avenues within the Department of Health to protest the move.

“We need a new hospital, we may need a new site, but there are absolutely no advantages, and there are a number of disadvantages, to being on the same site as a prison,” said a hospital source.

The concerns of medical staff follow criticisms of the proposal last week by Schizophrenia Ireland, The Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Psychiatric Nurses Association.

Staff at CMH perceive the move as an attempt by the Department of Justice toincorporate the hospital into the prison system, by locating it on the same site as the Mountjoy Prison complex.

While the CMH is managed and funded by the Department of Health and the East Coast Area Health Board, the site is owned by the Office of Public Works.

The source admitted the CMH building was not suitable and that it had been twice condemned by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

“We have been saying it for years that this building is not fit for its purpose and that the whole site may have to be sold and located somewhere else.

“But what has recently crept in is this notion, that does not come from us but originates from the Department of Justice, that since they have to move Mountjoy as well, that they could save a lot of money to put us on the same site. That suits them. In effect, they would be wanting to take us over.”

The CMH is the National Forensic Psychiatric Service and is the only centre that provides services to prisoners who are mentally ill.

The hospital’s central function is to cater for those who have gone through the criminal justice system but have been found to be insane, rather than guilty.

The CMH also caters for people who are referred there from local hospitals.

“We are not a prison and the hospital has always been managed by the Department of Health. If we go on the same site as a prison, people naturally would not see us as a hospital, but as a prison. That would make people who are mentally ill and need a service more unwilling to come here.

“A whole rake of international covenants on rights, including the rights of the mentally ill and prisoners, say people found insane should be in a hospital, not in prison.” The source said Justice Minister Michael McDowell, OPW Minister Tom Parlon and Health Minister Tim O’Malley were pushing the proposal.

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