Cork mental health service needs a dedicated ambulance, says Penny Dinners head

Caitríona Twomey, who runs the soup kitchen charity Cork Penny Dinners, is keen to see Cork follow in the footsteps of Stockholm which became the first city in the world to introduce an ambulance designed specifically to respond to mental health crises back in 2017
Cork mental health service needs a dedicated ambulance, says Penny Dinners head

During its first year on the road in 2017, the psychiatric emergency response team ambulance in Sweden responded to more than 1,000 individuals in crisis. The team responds to 135 calls a month on average and has regular contact with 96 individuals in total. FILE PIC

ONE of Ireland's leading homelessness advocates has addressed the need for a dedicated mental health ambulance in Cork after seeing a number of acute episodes mistaken for public order offences.

Caitríona Twomey, who runs the soup kitchen charity Cork Penny Dinners, is keen to see Cork follow in the footsteps of Stockholm which became the first city in the world to introduce an ambulance designed specifically to respond to mental health crises back in 2017.

Ms Twomey said that a private specialised ambulance service put in place for patients with mental health issues would go a long way to help ease the trauma of patients and their families who find themselves in extremely distressing situations.

During its first year on the road in 2017, the psychiatric emergency response team ambulance in Sweden responded to more than 1,000 individuals in crisis. The team responds to 135 calls a month on average and has regular contact with 96 individuals in total.

Ms Twomey explained why she feels a similar model is needed locally.

“We have to throw the book at mental health,” she said. 

“If we do, it might alleviate the stress of those who are already suffering. We have received calls from people who have sons or daughters living with them who have experienced an episode and they can’t get help from the services that exist. 

"While the services are outstanding there is not enough consistency in that they lack a huge amount of resources. Any mental health service is not a one-stop shop. What we need is a dedicated service with trained personnel on board.”

Caitriona Twomey, right, believes a dedicated mental health ambulance is needed in Cork.
Caitriona Twomey, right, believes a dedicated mental health ambulance is needed in Cork.

Ms Twomey said she has come across a number of service users who have publicly struggled with their mental health.

“If we are seeing people suffering from mental health issues who have public order offences then it’s clear that we are not giving them the right treatment. Of course, this is not going to apply to everybody but it does apply to the people who need these kinds of services. It’s a difficult situation because gardaí need to be able to maintain public order. This is something that could benefit so many people in the long term.

“It’s very difficult for the families when the episodes become out of control. These may be situations where the person has never committed a crime before. If a crisis team could come up with an interim plan to introduce small scale services it could at least help people until mainstream services are put in place.”

Ireland has seen success with spin-off healthcare initiatives in the past, including the children’s ambulance service BUMBLEance, set up a number of years ago by Blackpool native Tony Heffernan and his wife Mary as the first of its kind in the world. The couple was aware of the urgent need for the service after losing their children Saoirse and Liam to the nervous system condition Batten disease in 2011 and 2014 respectively when they just were five years old.

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