Government accused of U-turn on mental health funding

Mental health charity criticises decision to spend only €15m out of €35m promised next year

After last week’s budget, Minister for Health Simon Harris told a briefing that €35 million in new services would be ‘initiated’ in 2017, in accordance with a commitment by the Government. ‘As in previous years, projects initiated in 2017 will not be completed in that calendar year.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

After last week’s budget, Minister for Health Simon Harris told a briefing that €35 million in new services would be ‘initiated’ in 2017, in accordance with a commitment by the Government. ‘As in previous years, projects initiated in 2017 will not be completed in that calendar year.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

 

The Government has been accused of another u-turn on mental funding after it emerged that not all the €35 million in additional funding pledged in the budget will be spent next year.

Mental Health Reform said it was dismayed at the reversal of Government commitments to invest €35 million in 2017 on improvements in mental health services.

“I am shocked to hear that there is scope for just €15 million of additional spending for improvements in mental health care for 2017, given the overstretched and under-resourced state of our mental health system,” the charity’s director, Shari McDaid said.

This represented an increase of just 1.8 per cent in funding for mental health compared to Budget 2016, much less than the 7.4 per cent overall increase for health. “Mental health has not been shown parity of esteem, much less the priority it needs by this Government,” Mr McDaid said.

Spending promises on mental health were the subject of a major row between Fine Gael and Labour after last year’s budget, with the then minister of state for mental health, Labour’s Kathleen Lynch, protesting in vain about a decision to spend €12 million of mental health funding in other areas.

This decision, which was supported by then minister for health Leo Varadkar, was later reversed by his successor, Simon Harris.

After last week’s budget, Mr Harris told a briefing that €35 million in new services would be “initiated” in 2017, in accordance with a commitment by the Government. “As in previous years, projects initiated in 2017 will not be completed in that calendar year.”

This week in the Dáil, Minister of State for Mental Health Helen McEntee, confirmed that just €15 million of the allocation would be spent next year.

The issue was raised by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on Wednesday. He accused the Government of “sending out falsehoods” by promising sums of money that “never materialise”.

Mental Health Reform has called for an urgent reform of the decision and says more resources are clearly needed in the area.