Up to 3,000 patients with severe mental illness at risk of premature death as their physical health being neglected by HSE – new report

THE physical health of patients with severe mental illness in hospitals is being neglected, increasing the risk of around 3,000 people suffering a premature death, a new report has revealed.

The investigation, carried out by Inspector of Mental Health Services, Dr Susan Finnerty, found patients who take antipsychotic drugs have a higher than normal risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

They can die between fifteen and twenty years earlier than someone without mental illness.

A review of 100 patients in ten mental health in-patient facilities found 71pc were on antipsychotic medication.

Four in ten had one or more symptoms of metabolic disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity or heart problems.

Only one in four had their body mass index measured.

Waist circumference was only carried out in 9pc. Monitoring of blood lipids and ECG exams were only performed in two thirds of the patients.

In many cases vital information such as family history of medical problems, smoking habits, exercise levels and diet was not obtained.

The findings were of serious concern, the report warned.

The report found that some patients with severe mental illness were being discriminated against as they were being denied access to essential physical healthcare services such as physiotherapy, dietetics, speech and language therapy, and seating assessments.

Dr Finnerty said: “This is utterly unacceptable and a breach of human rights. I found a significant number of residents who had been assessed as needing these services but had no access to them.

“People with severe mental illness deserve the same rights as everyone else, and to live healthier and longer lives.”

She said that healthcare professionals have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this and need to set the standard in raising aspirations for severe mentally ill people and in challenging discrimination.

She said people with a severe mental illness may die between 15 and 20 years earlier than the rest of the population.

Research in the United Kingdom has estimated that 40,000 deaths could be avoided each year if individuals with serious mental illness were afforded the same amount of physical healthcare as the general population. The equivalent number of deaths annually based on Ireland’s population would be almost 3,000.

The findings of her report were particularly concerning as many of those who live or reside in continuing care mental health units are vulnerable, elderly, have poor communication abilities and are at high risk of cardiac disease and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of the most dangerous heart attack risk factors).

Chief Executive of the Mental Health Commission, Mr John Farrelly, said that the findings of the Inspector raise safety and quality issues in relation to the physical healthcare provided to people suffering from severe mental illness.

“This report demonstrates a blatant disregard for the welfare of some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” he said.

“If we are talking seriously about creating a culture of respect for human rights in this country, then we must start by working to improve the quality and standards of our mental health services, and ensuring that we eliminate all instances of discrimination.

“We must commit to move now to implement procedures that will address the concerns in this report and radically improve the physical healthcare and monitoring of mentally ill people in Ireland to ensure that they do not continue to suffer unnecessarily.”

The Mental Health Commission has written to the HSE seeking an action plan to address the concerns raised in the report.

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