Hundreds of promised jobs in mental health services not filled

Campaigners express alarm over gaps in support for vulnerable mental patients

Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch told the Dáil recently that the vast majority – 98 per cent, or 468 – of the jobs had been “allocated” and would be filled as soon as possible.  .Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch told the Dáil recently that the vast majority – 98 per cent, or 468 – of the jobs had been “allocated” and would be filled as soon as possible. .Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Hundreds of positions pledged for community-based mental health teams last year have still not been filled, latest figures show.

The numbers come at a time when campaigners warn that psychiatric services are under heavy strain as a result of rising demand and staffing gaps.

In December 2012, the Government announced that €35 million would be invested over the following year in appointing 477 staff to community mental health teams for adults, children, older persons and other services.

Figures for the end of March 2014 show just over half – or 267 – of these promised posts have been filled, while a further 26 have agreed start-up dates.

However, Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch told the Dáil recently that the vast majority – 98 per cent, or 468 – had been “allocated” and would be filled as soon as possible. She acknowledged that there were difficulties in identifying suitable candidates due to factors including availability of qualified candidates and geographic location.

“I have received assurances from the Health Service Executive (HSE) that the recruitment process for these posts is being given priority,” she said.

Campaigners have expressed alarm at gaps in support for hundreds of vulnerable patients with mental health problems living in HSE-run community hostels.

A report from the State’s mental health watchdog has found that psychiatric patients who were moved out of mental hospitals and into community-based residences were often living in “mini-institutions” with limited access to health and care professionals.

Dr Shari McDaid of the campaign group Mental Health Reform said she was concerned that many patients did not have access to vital therapy or supports. Just 55 per cent of residents had access to psychology services, she said, while just 58 per cent had access to occupational therapy.

“A modern mental health service that fosters recovery should provide holistic support for people, including access to a multidisciplinary team made up of doctors, nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers,” she said.

Improvements

But she acknowledged that some high-support hostels had more than 10 beds and the HSE was committed to reviewing the suitability of these arrangements having regard to the needs of the clients there.

“The HSE acknowledges there is work still remaining, including reviewing the existing accommodation to ensure it is meeting the needs of the users of the mental health services, and the report of the Inspectorate of Mental Health Services will inform that work,” she said.

There are at least 115 supervised hostels run by the HSE which accommodate about 1,500 patients, although the inspectorate was unable to establish a reliable figure.