New Central Mental Hospital will be completed ‘on budget’, Dáil hears

Junior minister Jim Daly says €170m project will be finished on time in the next few weeks

Construction of the new Central Mental Hospital is expected to be completed “on budget and on time” in the next few weeks, the Dáil has heard.

Minister of State for Mental Health Jim Daly said the €170 million project at Portrane, Co Dublin, to replace the existing facility in Dundrum "will significantly transform some of the sickest forensic patients in the system and the treatment they get".

The complex will have 170 beds, including a 30-bed rehabilitation unit, and with a commissioning timetable of six months is expected to be operational by the summer.

Mr Daly was speaking on Thursday during a Dáil debate on mental health services in which he outlined the measures taken to reform and improve service structures.

A new phoneline will be launched next week which will advise people about more than 1,000 different mental health services nationwide.

The Minister said: “It is confusing for people whether they should contact Alone or Aware or Jigsaw or Pieta House or Camhs [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] or the Samaritans.”

The “phoneline will be quite transformative” in delivering mental health support because it will advise people of the most appropriate service in their area that is fit for them, he said.

A crisis textline is also being developed which is expected to be ready by the end of the year.

He said there had been an almost doubling of the mental health budget. However, more money is not going to be the solution, which would instead be based on “how we do what we do and structural reforms”.

Mr Daly said there had been a 20 per cent drop this year in the number of people on the Camhs waiting list following the recruitment of 130 psychologists into primary care services in the community.

“Before, €2 million or €3 million was thrown at the system to try and reduce the waiting list and as soon as the money was spent the waiting list shot back up,” he said.

The number of children in adult psychiatric wards had been significantly reduced this year, although it is still an issue, and there is “much less reliance on patients going abroad for treatment”, he added.

Potential risk

Fianna Fáil TD James Browne, however, said that just 1 per cent of all mental health services in the State are regulated and he was concerned about "the potential for serious risk to arise in some such facilities which ought to be regulated".

Facilities for disability care and physical health are regulated by the Health Information and Quality Authority but not those for mental health, he said.

The Wexford TD pointed out that “we are now 13 years into the 10-year national mental health strategy A Vision for Change”, but the update to it has still not been published.

Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis said that “more people die by suicide each year in Ireland than on the roads and yet only a fraction of the Government’s budget is spent on suicide prevention”.

He added that the introduction of 24/7 crisis intervention services is slow and behind schedule and no extra funding for the development of such services was included in the recent budget.

“The absence of 24/7 intervention services will actually cost lives. Mental health crises do not occur during set hours or on a nine-to-five basis. They are by their very nature unpredictable and unexpected.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times