Massive turn-out expected for march to save mental health unit

A key four day period in the campaign to save a brand new €2.8 million acute mental health unit in Ballinasloe begins today (Sunday) when hundreds of people are expected to join a protest march through the town (1pm).

Four days later, on the day the Dail resumes after its summer break, a delegation from the East Galway town will meet a group of politicians in Dublin – including Labour’s Minister of State for Health Kathleen Lynch – to make the case for keeping the unit open.

The Health Service Authority (West) decision to close the brand new 22-bed unit has caused uproar throughout East Galway and Roscommon since it was announced six weeks ago.

Doctors, mental health care professionals, sports and social clubs, and the families of service users have joined a vocal campaign group which has vowed to keep the unit at St Brigid’s Hospital open.

The protest march on Sunday has been organised by the East Galway Mental Health Action Group, which sprung up after over 500 people attended an emotional meeting in the town two weeks ago.

Senior mental health service managers in the area went over the heads of the HSA (West) by writing to the National Director to call for an external review of the shock decision to close the state-of-the-art unit.

This week, the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said the plans to remove the 22 acute beds from St Brigid’s without putting community health teams in place as an “abuse” of the national Vision for Change strategy for mental health services.

“Vision for Change is  not so much that you need to remove beds more that the needs for beds is removed, while the HSE  West is using Vision as a means of cutting beds without having the community supports in place to meet the demand for services,” said PNA National Secretary Noel Giblin.

The PNA believes adequate community based teams for older people and those with intellectual disability cannot be put in place by the end of the year, given that it took 14 years for a smiliar model to be introduced to the mental health services in Cavan and Monaghan.

Mr Giblin said the reality of the situation in Galway and Roscommon was that 32 acute beds were being taken out of the system, while there were no acute mental health teams in place who could treat patients in their own homes.

Those attending the protest will assemble at the Ballinasloe Library car park at 12.30pm, before marching through Society Street, Main Street, and New Road, before finishing in St Michael’s Square, where a number of speakers will address the protestors.


For more on this story, see the current edition of the Connacht Tribune