Mental health services allowed to 'go into freefall'


PSYCHIATRIC NURSES:THE GOVERNMENT has allowed Ireland’s mental health services to “go into freefall”, the Psychiatric Nurses Association annual delegates conference in Athlone, Co Westmeath,heard yesterday.

Association chairman Liam McNamara warned of the damage being caused to mental health services by retirements, budget cuts and the public service staffing moratorium.

Although up to 50 per cent of the population will suffer some sort of mental health problem in their lifetime, Mr McNamara said mental health services receive just 4.8 per cent of the national health budget, down from 13 per cent in 1984, and well short of EU averages at about 12 per cent.

He pointed to the “national scandal” of 486 people taking their own lives in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available.

A further 11,966 presented to hospital with self harm, he added.

Calling on Minister of State for Mental Health and Disabilities, Kathleen Lynch to “lift the embargo” on employing nurses, Mr McNamara said in the first two months of this year 425 psychiatric nurses had retired. That’s on top of the 1,200 or so psychiatric nurses who have retired in the past three years, he added.

In Cork, he accused HSE South of trying to “bulldoze through” the rationalisation and restructuring of services and attempting to use multitask attendants, some without first aid training, in direct care roles.

“Among the staff being sent in to provide direct care to patients are a cook, a gardener, a porter; I understand these staff members are absolutely proficient at their own jobs but are neither prepared or trained for the roles that the HSE South are imposing on them,” he remarked.

According to the association’s general secretary Des Kavanagh, with the staffing moratorium, budget cuts and retirements, psychiatric nurse numbers have fallen from more than 6,000 to about 4,500. “Government has turned a blind eye to the impact of those retirements on mental healthcare,” he remarked.

“The approach being pursued by the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is blunt, unscientific, economically and socially insensitive. The policies being pursued are undermining of healthcare, jeopardise safe practice and will increase the economic cost of mental illness on the economy into the future,” Mr Kavanagh said.

Ms Lynch told delegates at the conference that “mental health in this budget was the only area that the tide came in for because I can tell you that for all other areas of health the tide went out”.

“People would say well yourself and Des , you’re going to have a row. We’re not because we are on the one page and I need him to keep saying that we need additional resources. This is not two people in conflict over service.

“We are on the same page here, we do need additional resources and we do need to continue to build up the service. This is not union versus the Minister,” she told the conference.