Calls have been made on the HSE to invest in west Cork's only acute mental health unit after the executive was instructed to reduce the number of patients who can be treated there by one third due to "critical" deficiencies in the building which houses the unit.

The Mental Health Commission (MHC) has attached a condition to the registration for the Centre for Mental Health Care and Recovery in Bantry requiring the number of patients who can be treated there to be cut from 18 to 11.

The unit is located on the campus of Bantry General Hospital.

The HSE is considering a district court appeal to challenge the decision of the MHC.

An earlier appeal by the HSE to the Chief Executive of the MHC, John Farrelly, was rejected.

Anne-Marie Crowley's brother, Jerry Fehily, was a patient at the Centre for Mental Health Care and Recovery in Bantry.

Mr Fehily, who was from Ballineen in West Cork, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 18.

He struggled for many years with his mental health and was a regular in-patient at the acute mental health unit in Bantry.

He stayed there for periods from a fortnight up to a month. At other times, he availed of counselling and support as an out-patient.

Anne-Marie Crowley remembers her brother as a caring, funny person. She says he was very much loved by his family.

"Jerry was a very kind and loving brother," Anne-Marie says.

"He was an excellent son to my parents and, to describe him more personally, he was very witty; he had a great sense of humour.

"He had a great way with the English language, so he wrote a lot of poetry and lyrics and he had a great west Cork singing voice as well."

In May of last year, Jerry took his life. He was 55.

The Centre for Mental Health Care and Recovery in Bantry

Ms Crowley believes her brother's quality of life was improved by the treatment he received at the acute mental health unit in Bantry.

"Proximity makes a difference," she says.

"The timing, if somebody has a condition and is going through an episode - especially with bipolar disorder - is paramount.

"Having access to such amazing services in Bantry made the difference in Jerry's life."

She says she was therefore shocked when she learned of the decision by the MHC to reduce maximum occupancy at the unit from 18 to 11.

"First of all, I was in disbelief," Ms Crowley told RTÉ News.

"I was very upset when I heard that. There have been a lot of tragedies around west Cork, and we should be doing the opposite of what is being proposed here.

"We should be investing in the unit. We should be commending the work that's being done there and adding to that, so that that service is available for people like Jerry who are experiencing mental health issues."

Cork TD for Fianna Fáil, Christopher O'Sullivan, raised the issue in the Dáil with the Taoiseach yesterday

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The MHC is the regulator for Ireland's acute mental health sector.

It conducts annual inspections and issues reports on its findings.

These reports are public documents and are available for inspection on the commission's website.

RTÉ News understands that the MHC has been concerned for some time about the physical infrastructure in Bantry; the building which houses the acute mental health unit.

It is understood that the commission was reluctant to impose the condition restricting patient numbers at the unit, but felt it had no alternative after a number of calls it made in previous annual reports on the unit had been largely ignored by the HSE.

In its report on Bantry in 2021, the MHC described the non-compliance of the building housing the unit there as "critical".

And when inspectors returned in recent weeks and found that those deficiencies had not been addressed, a decision was made to attach a condition to the unit's registration to reduce the maximum number of patients who can be accommodated there from 18 to 11.

Dr Fiona Kelly said she was shocked when she heard the number of beds would be reduced

Dr Fiona Kelly, a GP in Castletownbere, said she was shocked when she heard of this restriction.

She explained that - like many GPs - the majority of the patients she deals with have issues in relation to their mental health.

She says the HSE must bring the unit in Bantry up to standard.

"I would really implore the HSE to invest in the services that protect our vulnerable population," Dr Kelly said.

"This is a service that is of the utmost importance, especially when you consider the vastness of the area it covers."

The only option open to the HSE to challenge the decision of the MHC is to appeal to the district court.

The HSE issued a one-line statement in response to questions from RTÉ News.

It said: "We are currently assessing the decision and the options available to address it."