HSE overspending threatens recruitment of promised mental health staff
477 posts pledged this year for community mental health and suicide prevention services
Money set aside this year for the recruitment of hundreds of staff for mental health services is at risk as a result of overspending in the rest of the health sector, unpublished documents show.
The Government announced earlier this year that €35 million would be set aside to recruit 477 professionals to fill gaps and modernise mental health service in areas such as community services and suicide prevention.
Health authorities have not yet appointed any of these staff on the ground, but say they are at various stages of recruitment.
The spending delay comes at a time of rising demand for mental health services in the community and rising concern about suicide.
A similar development occurred last year when money allocated for hiring more than 400 staff to mental health services ended up being used to tackle cost overruns in other parts of the health services. The HSE has yet to finish recruiting these staff.
Posts promised for 2013
Internal documents seen by The Irish Times cast fresh doubt on whether many of the new posts promised for 2013 will be recruited this year.
An unpublished draft of the HSE’s spending plans for this year states that recruitment is conditional on savings being made across the health system.
“It is planned that the investment will take place in quarter 4, 2013 contingent upon the achievement of the PSA [public sector agreement] savings. A ceiling uplift is needed for these developments,” it states.
But there are indications the HSE will overspend again this year. The executive is required to make significant savings, though figures show it is running a deficit of €25 million.
In addition, savings expected from the pay deal are likely to be significantly less than was expected given delays in securing an agreement.
Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch acknowledged there may be delays recruiting staff this year. But she insisted that all promised funds will be used to hire new staff. Any delays, she said, were linked to difficulties in the recruitment process rather than funding.
“The money was written into the budget – so I expect it will be spent,” Ms Lynch said. “This isn’t an issue just for me; the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste want to see progress in this area.”
Ms Lynch said there was a need for “specialised recruitment panels” to speed up the hiring of staff and ensure qualified professionals were going where they were needed most.
In a statement, the HSE confirmed it had not yet finished recruiting mental health staff promised by the end of last year. A total of 335 of the 414 posts promised during 2012 had been appointed to date.
Of the posts promised for this year, it said 55 had been accepted with clearances being processed, while a further 147 were being offered to candidates to express an interest.
It said these posts – when in place – would boost community mental health teams, as well as more specialised services in mental health for older people, patients with intellectual disabilities and forensic services.
But the campaign group Mental Health Reform said it had “serious concerns” that delays to the recruitment of community mental health teams last year were likely to happen again this year.