Covid-19 pandemic has ‘laid bare the inadequacies’ of State’s mental health services

Call for Government to increase funding for sector by €85m in next month’s budget

The Government should increase spending on mental health by €85 million in next month’s budget, an Oireachtas committee has heard. Photograph: iStock

The Government should increase spending on mental health by €85 million in next month’s budget, an Oireachtas committee has heard. Photograph: iStock

 

The Government should increase spending on mental health by €85 million in next month’s budget, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

TDs and Senators on Wednesday were told that before the Covid-19 pandemic mental health services were “already under pressure, with long waiting lists, staff shortages, and a lack of therapeutic support in many areas” and that the last 18 months had “laid bare the inadequacies” in the sector.

Fiona Coyle, chief executive of Mental Health Reform, which comprises 75 member organisations, said investment has been “long needed” in primary care to improve access to the likes of psychology services, talk therapies, and social workers.

She told the subcommittee on mental health that the Government should raise spending in the area to 10 per cent of the annual health budget.

The Sláintecare health reform plan also recommends a 10 per cent target, while the World Health Organisation believes it should be 12 per cent. The UK spends nearly 13 per cent of its total health budget on mental health, whereas in Ireland it is just 5.1 per cent, the committee heard.

‘Drive change’

Mental Health Reform is calling for an additional investment of €85 million for services in the budget. It says €20 million of this should go towards maintaining existing levels of service, while €65 million should be used to develop new services “to drive change in the system, and deal with the current challenges”.

Asked by Senator Seán Kyne what the €20 million would be directed towards, Ms Coyle said “year on year costs rise to run a service, due to staffing costs increasing or basic costs like rent or electricity - that is the minimum required to provide the exact same level of services provided today, next year”.

In the past, there had not been enough money ring fenced to provide that level of service, she said. In addition, Ms Coyle said investment was needed to roll out 24/7 services across the country as “mental health crises do not happen 9-5”.

A need for investment in primary care was also emphasised, with waiting lists of up to a year cited following mental health related visits with GPs.

Unspent funds

The €10 million announced in February to help with the mental health impacts of Covid-19 had not yet been spent, the subcommittee was told. The funding should be ring-fenced and all announcements in the budget should be in addition to that, the committee was told.

Dr Fiona Keogh, director of policy and research at Mental Health Ireland, said while eMental Health services used more during the pandemic should continue, they could not replace face-to-face contact.

Ber Grogan, policy and advocacy coordinator with Mental Health Reform, said a Bill to amend the Mental Health Act 2001 was needed as it had been “functioning outside of human rights legislation for a really long time”.