Belfast Telegraph

Woman with mental health issues is being let down by system: judge

Attack: Barney McElholm
Attack: Barney McElholm

By George Jackson

An outspoken judge has said people with mental health problems have been abandoned by the government and that placing them in the community is nothing more than a cost-cutting exercise to shut down facilities.

In a powerful attack on the system at the Magistrates Court in Londonderry yesterday, District Judge Barney McElholm said it was time that mental health professionals "grasped their responsibilities" instead of putting the onus on the courts to deal with the problem.

He made his comments during the case of a 36-year-old local woman with mental health issues. She was removed from Craigavon Bridge on Tuesday night by police officers following a report from a member of the public who said they had seen her acting in a potentially suicidal manner.

An officer said the woman, who admitted breaching her court bail conditions when she was arrested, was then taken to Altnagelvin Hospital.

"On arrival there she was taken to the Accident and Emergency department and then into a triage room," the officer said.

"She refused to engage with the triage nurse and remained silent throughout the entire contact with the nurse.

"She refused to be medically treated.

"It really is a sad situation. It's gotten to the stage that I have to unfortunately ask for a remand in custody. I do not know of anything else I can suggest for her."

Mr McElholm questioned what police were meant to do if they saw her on the Craigavon Bridge again.

"Are they supposed to leave her on the bridge the next time?" he said.

"The mental health regime has not worked in this jurisdiction since that care in the community idea was brought in. It is a regime which was completely without integrity.

"It was designed to save money and to put people out into the community who cannot survive on their own in the community. It was to shut down various mental health institutions.

"There is nowhere to send addicts, nowhere to send people with entrenched mental health difficulties.

"There just seems to be an attitude in government to leave it to the criminal justice system without giving the criminal justice system the resources to manage it. I am worried that in this particular case the police will not get there in time the next time. Locking her up is doing her no good.

"A short prison sentence will do no good for anyone.

"I just find that people such as this lady are being abandoned by the government - not that we have a functioning government here.

"I can appreciate the dilemma of the police. If I were the police I would not take her to Altnagelvin Hospital the next time, I would take her to Grangewood in Gransha Hospital and say, 'You are the mental health professionals, this is your responsibility'. I think it's about time they grasped their responsibilities.

"There is a complete dearth in mental health services in this jurisdiction.

"I do not know if that applies to the rest of the UK.

"Mental health professionals need to be dealing with this young lady, not the criminal justice system."

The woman was released on bail until June 22.

Belfast Telegraph


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