Lynch admits ‘serious battering’ over mental health issue

Target to end practice of admitting teenagers into adult psychiatic units ‘unlikely to be met’

Kathleen Lynch: Minister has conceded to colleagues that the Coaltion is taking heavy criticism over money pledged for mental health not being spent. Photograph: Jason Clarke

Kathleen Lynch: Minister has conceded to colleagues that the Coaltion is taking heavy criticism over money pledged for mental health not being spent. Photograph: Jason Clarke

 

Internal documents show Minister of State Kathleen Lynch has admitted to colleagues that the Government is taking a “serious battering” over money pledged for mental health not being spent.

Last year there was a €15 million shortfall in funds due to be ring-fenced for community-based mental health and suicide prevention services.

In addition, much of the money set aside over recent years to hire hundreds of new staff and fill vacancies has been subject to long delays.

To prevent this occurring again, the Department of Health has told the HSE it will only release development money for mental health services in 2015 once specific plans are ready to be implemented.

But this meant the pledged money – €35 million – did not appear in headline figures in the Health Service Executive’s service plan for 2015, as it had not been released by the department.

Not happy

“Annually we are taking a serious battering on the monies being spent on mental health and anything we can do to present it in a better light should be done,” she told a senior colleague, in an email sent days before the HSE’s service plan was published.

Ultimately, the service plan was changed to reflect the new development money, which will be made available as soon as “agreed developments come on stream”.

The fact that the €35 million has not been yet released to the HSE is likely to lead to fresh concerns that it could end up being diverted into other areas by the Department of Health.

It is under increasing pressure, for example, to fund the Fair Deal scheme on nursing home care.

Records also show health authorities are unlikely to reach a target set in the 2015 plan which aims to reduce the number of young people with mental health problems admitted to adult psychiatric units.

‘Inexcusable’

A draft of the HSE’s service plan set a target of 75 per cent for the proportion of children to be admitted into child and adolescent mental health settings this year.

Internal correspondence, however, shows Ms Lynch insisted on pressing for a target of 100 per cent. “Setting the same target next year for such a disturbing issue would be a retrograde step,” she said.

HSE officials responded that this target was unlikely to be met, given that only 67 per cent of all acute admissions involving children in 2014 were to age-appropriate units.

This resulted in about 90 young people being admitted to adult units last year.

Instead, the HSE suggested a 95 per cent target in the 2015 service plan, though officials conceded that this, too, was unlikely to met.