Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hundreds of disabled people in Ireland in unsuitable institutions

From The Irish Times:

More than 300 people with intellectual disabilities continue to reside in psychiatric hospitals, 25 years after the practice was due to be phased out, the latest figures show.

The Government has pledged on numerous occasions to end the practice which has arisen mainly due to a lack of appropriate accommodation for intellectually disabled people in the community.

But a new report compiled by the Health Research Board shows that 308 people with intellectual disabilities are still residing in psychiatric hospitals.

Of this number, almost 200 require an immediate transfer into more appropriate facilities in the communities, as well as day services or residential support.

The figures come despite a Government policy document on mental health published in 1984 which stated that people with intellectual disabilities in mental hospitals should be cared for separately. The policy’s successor, Vision for Change, published in 2006 also stated this group be cared for in more appropriate surroundings.

Deirdre Carroll of Inclusion Ireland, which represents people with disabilities and their families, said: “It is simply not good enough that Government policy can state something so serious is unacceptable, and 25 years later it is still happening.”

She said there was evidence that many intellectually disabled people in these settings were being prescribed drugs rather than therapy to tackle challenging behaviour.

This was reflected in a report by the Mental Health Commission into St Luke’s psychiatric hospital in Clonmel which found that patients were being inappropriately prescribed long-term treatments with benzodiazepines and that expertise to deal with people with an intellectual disability were not in place.

The inspector for mental health services, Dr Patrick Devitt, said in his most recent annual report that placing intellectually disabled people into generic residential care was not sufficient. “Unfortunately, many intellectually disabled people with challenging behaviour have been placed inappropriately in psychiatric hospitals designed for the general adult population without adequate provision of consultant psychiatrist-led specialist teams in intellectual disability,” he wrote.

He said people with disabilities could lead much more fulfilled lives by being placed in more appropriate accommodation in the community, backed up with therapies to address challenging behaviour.

The National Intellectual Disability Database for 2008, compiled by the Health Research Board, shows almost 200 individuals were recorded as needing to be transferred immediately from psychiatric hospitals to specialised residential centres, intensive placements or community group home places.

Others required day services, while a single person needed to be moved to a nursing home.

The majority were classified as having a moderate, severe and profound disability. “In all cases, the need was immediate,” the report said.

The total number of intellectually disabled in psychiatric hospitals last year fell by 21, from 329 in 2007 to 308 in 2008.

Overall, the database found there were 25,433 people with an intellectual disability in receipt of some form of service last year, representing 98 per cent of the total registered population. This is the highest number since the database was first published in 1995.