Warning of suicide increase over cuts


CUTBACKS TO frontline services for the mentally ill could lead to an increased suicide rate, Sinn Féin spokesman on health Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has warned.

He said alarm bells should ring, and there was a need for action, when the general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) had referred to “the horrendous prospect of leaving mentally vulnerable people without any services and that there will be a consequent increase in the suicide rate”.

Mr Ó Caoláin said that of the nearly 4,000 health service workers taking early retirement, 1,054 were nurses. “A PNA survey has shown that up to 400 of its frontline service providers, psychiatric nurses, will be leaving by the end of this month,” he said.

“That represents 9 per cent of the total complement of psychiatric nurses within the system.” Even before the current exodus, in the run-up to Christmas, 17 people were refused admission as inpatients in the north county Dublin mental health services. One had since tragically died as a result of suicide, he added.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who was taking Opposition Leaders’ Questions, said the Health Service Executive’s service plan included a commitment to reduce acute inpatient capacity by a minimum of 153 beds nationally this year, in line with recommendations of “A Vision for Change’’.

She said there was a commitment to allocate €35 million for mental health and to involve an additional 400 people in the mental health services this year.

Ms Burton said they should bear in mind that the people who were availing of the early retirement scheme were by and large those close to retirement.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath claimed it was “shambolic” the Government had waited until two weeks before the early retirement deadline to put transition teams in place.

“Such is the lack of preparation for dealing with the fallout from the impending retirements that the Minister for Health is admitting that staff who are being incentivised to leave can and will, in some cases, be immediately rehired to fill gaps in the service,” Mr McGrath added.

Ms Burton said planning had gone ahead in every department to deal with the transition. Ministers would not have known the exact numbers leaving until last week, she added.