Pandemic mental health report ‘will not be shelved’

Oireachtas group vows to exert pressure and ensure recommendations are implemented

‘We’re talking about investing in mental health services and yet we’re closing a centre in my own town in the middle of a pandemic.’ File photograph: Getty

‘We’re talking about investing in mental health services and yet we’re closing a centre in my own town in the middle of a pandemic.’ File photograph: Getty

 

Minister of State for Mental Health Mary Butler will be put under pressure to ensure an all-party report on the impact of Covid-19 on community services does not become a “dust collector”.

Chairwoman of the Oireachtas sub-committee on mental health Senator Frances Black said “we will follow up with the Minister on a quarterly basis to receive an update on the implementation of the report’s recommendations”.

Ms Black was speaking after the launch on Wednesday of the interim report on the effects of pandemic restrictions on mental health services in the community. The document recommends a review of the effects on palliative care, on end-of-life supports and on funerals. Evidence is emerging of the “suffering and the long-term effects on mental health” of not being able to grieve properly because of the pandemic restrictions, the report states.

The sub-committee recommends that the Department of Health introduce emergency measures to meet the surge in demand for mental health supports and services, including a “fit for purpose” 24-hour suicide-prevention support team.

It has also called for State funding, management and multidisciplinary planning for mental health services to be increased and suggests that free universal access to counselling would remove barriers to people getting appropriate help when they need it, but does not put a cost on this provision.

The sub-committee spoke to nine organisations during March and April including: Macra na Feirme; AsIAm; the Clondalkin Covid-19 Community Response Network; Family Resource Centres; and the National Traveller Mental Health Network. Ms Black said it was important to voice the experience of those organisations “at the height of the pandemic”.

Ms Black, who is also an addiction counsellor, said resources should be put in place now to limit and prevent as much of the mental health impact of Covid-19 on the community as possible.

Sinn Féin concern

But Cork East Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley expressed serious concern the report would not be implemented, pointing to the final report in October 2018 of the Committee on the Future of Mental Health, which he said was agreed by all parties but has yet to be act on three years later.

“We’re talking about investing in mental health services and yet we’re closing a centre in my own town in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. The Owenacurra centre, a 20 long-stay bed centre in Midleton, which also provides day services, is to close in October.

Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart observed that “if we were to do the vaccination programme again” he believed that once the vulnerable groups and those over 50 were vaccinated “it should have been thrown open and then everybody would have felt equal”, rather than continuing through age cohorts.

Stressing that his comments were not a criticism – “we learn in hindsight” – he cited the contribution of Soar, the organisation representing young people. “I think younger people in that 18- to 25-year-old group had no voice and yet suffered most, aside clearly from those who suffered illness and died.”

The report also calls for State agencies to “effectively engage with and respect the work of” organised community groups. Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said “we have to have a multidisciplinary approach and thread it through Sláintecare”, the 10-year programme to transform the health system.