Cuts 'hurting mental health services'

Thu, Jun 2, 2011, 01:00

The State's mental health services face major staff shortages due to the moratorium on public sector recruitment, the Mental Health Commission has warned.

These staff shortages are undermining efforts to reform how people with mental health illnesses are treated just as demand for services increase due to the economic recession, says the commission's 2010 annual report.

Commission chairman Dr Edmond O'Dea said today that in some areas 20 per cent of nurses had left the mental health services over the past two years and had not been replaced. He said it was "deeply disappointing" that this is hampering efforts to move from institutional care towards more community-based mental health services.

"This is a big problem as staff are being withdrawn from community services in order to plug gaps in inpatient units. This is another factor slowing down the move from institutional to community care," said Dr O'Dea at the launch of the 2010 annual report.

Nurses working in the mental health services can retire at 55 years of age rather than the standard 60 years, said Dr O'Dea. This has led to greater numbers leaving from the mental health services, he added.

A report published by the Health Services Executive last year said staffing levels in its mental health services were running at 70 per cent of the level recommended in the Government's Vision for Change strategy.

Dr O'Dea said the economic recession had put additional pressure on individuals and this was leading to increased demand for mental health services.

"At the same time the very difficult situation regarding the public finances makes it difficult to secure the resources necessary to achieve the changes and improvements in mental services that are required," he said.

There were 429 admissions of children to mental health centres in 2010, compared to 371 a year earlier. There were 155 admissions of children to adult units.

Under a code drawn up by the commission, no child under 17 years should currently be placed in adult facilities. From December 1st, 2011, this will be extended to teenagers under 18.

The commission said new child mental health units had come on stream in 2010, which had resulted in 24 per cent decrease in admissions to adult units in 2010 despite the increase in overall admissions to mental health units.

The report said the practice of admitting children with social problems to psychiatric beds was "prevalent".

The commission, which acts as a regulator in the mental health sector, said the total number of involuntary admissions to mental health facilities fell to 1952 last year, down from 2024 in 2009.

It said only five of the 68 approved mental health centres in the country were fully complaint with all the regulations. It said it was using its statutory powers in a "prudent way" with regard to old centres to ensure there is enough bed capacity within the system.

Some 162 people died at mental health centres last year, down from 172 reported in 2009. Some 14 per cent of deaths related to sudden unexplained deaths.

The commission welcomed Government commitments to ring fence €35 million for the development of community mental health teams and end the practice of placing children and adolescents in adult wards.