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Mental health unit ‘no longer fit for purpose’

A Belfast coroner has called for major improvements to Northern Ireland’s mental health facilities, describing them as the “Cinderella part of the health service”.

Coroner John Leckey is to put forward recommendations to Health Minister Michael McGimpsey on acute mental health unit Windsor House after hearing evidence at the inquest of Dermot Peter Timoney.

Mr Timoney (51), of Sicily Park, Belfast, hanged himself in a toilet at the unit on September last year and was found by staff who resuscitated him.

The father-of-three, who had been a resident of Windsor House since September 2008, died of pneumonia seven days later in Belfast City Hospital .

His widow Margaret Timoney told the inquest: “I would have to commend the nursing staff for the level of care they gave, they really helped him keep his dignity. If anything let Dermot down it was the building that he was housed in,” she said. Dr Christopher Kelly, a consultant psychiatrist at Belfast City Hospital, said Windsor House was a Victorian building and had many flaws.

“It’s appalling in the 21st century that patients — and we have many elderly patients who may have coronary problems — are disadvantaged in this way and potentially put at risk,” he said. Dr Kelly had assessed the former civil servant on the day he tried to take his own life and believed his condition was improving.

The coroner concluded the unit was “not fit for purpose” and said he would be sending his recommendations to the Minister for Health.

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After the inquest Mrs Timoney said: “The one good thing that has come out of today is that this problem has been highlighted and hopefully the minister will listen to Mr Leckey’s recommendations.”

A Belfast Trust spokesman yesterday said that plans to demolish Windsor House and build a new facility on the site were still in place.

But he could not say when exactly this would happen.

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