Government accused of ‘penny pinching’ over lack of Defence Forces psychiatrist

Defence Forces had faced challenge over failure to treat soldiers for psychological injuries

Approval has now been given to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian consultant at pay rates equivalent to those available in the HSE. File photograph: Alan Betson

Approval has now been given to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian consultant at pay rates equivalent to those available in the HSE. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

A recruitment process run last year to find a military psychiatrist for the Defence Forces yielded no applicants, prompting charges of “penny pinching” against the Government by Defence Forces representative organisations.

The direct entrant competition closed at the end of September and efforts to secure a locum psychiatrist have also been unsuccessful to date, Minister of State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe confirmed last week.

Mr Kehoe has now given approval to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian consultant at pay rates equivalent to those available in the HSE.

Pdforra, which represents members of the permanent Defence Forces, said that a review of medical mental health services within the armed forces had been undertaken in September 2017. The review recommended an attempt be made to recruit a psychiatrist to help members facing mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Gerard Guinan, general secretary of Pdforra, said his association had suggested alternative approaches that could be adopted to secure the services of a psychiatrist over the past few months, to no avail.

“To say that Pdforra is disappointed at the failure of the department to engage is an understatement. Our members who give such loyal service and put themselves in harm’s way deserve much better treatment than that which they are currently receiving,” he said. “Penny pinching cannot be undertaken at the expense of our members’ health.”

In a reply to a parliamentary question on the matter, Mr Kehoe warned that there was a nationwide shortage of trained psychiatrists and that there were recruitment issues in a number of sectors of the health service. “The difficulty with recruitment for such a position is not unique to the Defence Forces,” he said.

Mr Guinan said that the work of those serving in the Defence Forces exposed them to “extremely harsh environments across the world. The nature of military service invariably results in the witnessing and participation in events which impact on the mental health and wellbeing of personnel”.

The Defence Forces have previously been on the receiving end of legal challenges over failure to diagnose and treat soldiers for psychological injuries. Last year the State lost a Supreme Court appeal against a decision to award compensation to a former soldier who suffered from PTSD after a tour in Lebanon in 1986.

Damages of €150,000 were ultimately paid to the former soldier, Victor Murtagh. Fianna Fáil spokesman on mental health, James Browne, said that Defence Forces members were under significant mental strain in the normal course of their duties.

“The availability of a psychiatrist to soldiers in order to provide intervention at the earliest point is of critical importance,” he said.

A spokesman for the Defence Forces said he had nothing to add to Mr Kehoe’s comments.