Government breaks pledge to ringfence €35m to modernise mental health
Minister insists money is available to recruit staff to community mental health teams
Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch: as recently as last week the Minister reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to maintaining the €35 million investment
The Coalition has broken its Programme for Government pledge to ringfence €35 million annually to modernise mental health services, new figures show.
The move could mean up to 200 fewer staff will be recruited across community mental health services, suicide prevention and other specialist services, campaign groups have warned.
Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch has confirmed that a lower figure of €20 million will be allocated for investment in mental health services next year.
In a statement, Ms Lynch said the funds were “in line with a commitment in the Programme for Government” to accelerate the development of a modern mental health service.
However, this document – signed in 2011 – committed the Coalition partners to “ringfence €35 million annually from within the health budget” to develop community mental health teams and more appropriate services for adults and children.
As recently as last week, the Minister had reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to maintaining this investment.
Mental Health Reform, a coalition of campaign groups, welcomed the investment of €20 million but expressed concern that lower than anticipated funding would result in fewer staff on the ground.
“Mental health services are continuing to lose staff through retirements and other departures, and services continue to be under pressure,” Dr Shari McDaid, director of Mental Health Reform said.
She said only 4 per cent of the 477 staff to be recruited this year using ringfenced money set aside last year were in place by the end of last month.
“We are concerned that once again this year there has been a significant delay in spending the €35 million promised in Budget 2013,” she said. “We want to see early agreement on the plans for spending the 2014 funds so that the same doesn’t happen again next year.”
Pressure on mental heath services remains acute. Latest figures indicate the number of suicides and people self-harming is up, while mental health groups such as Pieta House say they are struggling to meet demand for assistance.
Earlier this year, Dr Patrick Devitt, the inspector for Mental Health Services, said he found the system of support for patients was “stagnant and perhaps slipped backwards” during the previous 12 months as a result of dwindling staff numbers and poor governance.
Ms Lynch has insisted that funding has led to progress as reliance on institutions diminishes and more people receive help in the community.
“The €70 million provided over the last two budgets, together with this investment of €20 million, will significantly make a real difference to some of the most vulnerable in our society,” she said.
The funds allocated for 2014 will be targeted at recruiting staff to community, child and adolescent, and specialist mental health teams. In addition, more resource officers for suicide prevention initiatives would be hired, she said.
Some campaigners worry that staff shortages as a result of retirements and the recruitment embargo are leading to professionals such as nurses and psychiatrists being taken out of the community and back into acute or institutional settings.
This goes against the Government’s official policy, as set out in A Vision for Change, of shifting resources towards better community-based services. This policy – published in 2006 – envisaged more than 1,000 extra staff to modernise services.
However, as of last April, there were more than 1,000 fewer staff in the mental health services than four years ago.