Labour’s Kathleen Lynch resists loss of mental health funds

Minister asks Civil Service mandarin Jim Breslin to ensure resources remain in place

Minister of State Kathleen Lynch: Requested that agreed allocation for mental health remains in place “for the duration of the caretaker government and until a new minister is in place”. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister of State Kathleen Lynch: Requested that agreed allocation for mental health remains in place “for the duration of the caretaker government and until a new minister is in place”. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Plans by the Department of Health and the HSE to raid money supposedly ring-fenced for mental health for spending in more politically sensitive areas are being resisted by Labour Minister of State Kathleen Lynch.

Ms Lynch, who has responsibility for mental health, said there are “no circumstances where I could agree to one-third of my budget for developments in mental health being transferred to another service for 2016”.

“Such a decision would have a very serious negative impact on the implementation of mental health policy,” she warned in a letter sent to Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin on Thursday.

Ms Lynch learned from department and HSE officials last week that €12 million of the €35 million ring-fenced for mental health in the last budget was being diverted to other areas in health. The HSE is massively overspent already this year and is heading for an end-of-year deficit of at least €250 million.

Any money diverted from mental health is likely to be spent shoring up the hospitals’ budget, where trolley numbers and waiting lists continue to rise.

Mental Health Reform said the diversion of any funding was unacceptable. “It doesn’t show parity of esteem between mental health and physical health, and it fails to recognise there is still huge ground to be made up in the area,” said director Shari McDaid.

Internal rows

No money was allocated to the area in the immediate run-up to the budget.

Ms Lynch threatened to resign and stayed in Cork in protest at the decision by Cabinet Ministers right up to the afternoon of the budget. When they eventually back-tracked, she travelled to Dublin, arriving just 25 minutes before the department’s press conference.

Her letter to Mr Breslin references these events by referring to the “considerable effort” she made to secure the funding on the evening before the budget announcement and on the day of the budget itself. “The funding had not been forthcoming up until then. The Government agreed to the funding, in line with the programme for government, on the basis that it was ring-fenced and held by the department for mental health developments.”

Ms Lynch accepted it would be open to any new minister when a government is formed to divert funds from the mental health budget “should they so wish”.

In the interim, she has asked Mr Breslin to ensure that the agreed allocation for mental health remains in place “for the duration of the caretaker government and until a new minister is in place”.