Twenty-eight people have died from Covid-19 while resident in a mental health facility, the Dáil has been told.
Paying tribute to those who had died Minister of State Mary Butler said "the situation could have been much worse in our residential services", without the work done on outbreak control, which included reconfiguring many facilities to single rooms to reduce the risk of cross-infection.
She said the HSE was prioritising vaccination of those over 65 years in residential settings, including mental health facilities.
“The majority of the 46 units with residents over 65 years have now received the first dose of the vaccine.”
Ms Butler, who has responsibility for mental health, also highlighted increased cases of “first episode psychosis” and eating disorders. “I am particularly concerned about the rise in eating disorders among girls and young women.”
She said funding for 2021 would enable continued development of programmes including those for early intervention in psychosis and eating disorders.
“Funding to enhance eating disorder services will be allocated this year for the recruitment of staff to enhance and establish specialist teams in addition to capital works.”
Ms Butler said the availability of staff has been a significant issue throughout the pandemic and most cases of Covid-19 in mental health services have been among staff, mirroring national services.
Ms Butler was opening a Dáil debate on the impact of Covid-19 on mental health during which TDs highlighted issues of anxiety, loneliness, grief, self-harm and suicide because of the pandemic.
Sinn Féin TD Paul Donnelly highlighted the case of a young man who had a mental health incident in which the Garda emergency response unit was called.
He spent three days in Connolly hospital A&E before being sent home because no psychiatric hospital bed was available.
Mr Donnelly said he was to be admitted but the psychiatric unit was in lockdown because of Covid-19 and when his mother asked what would happen if another episode occurred because he was still in a distressed state, “she was told to call the gardaí”.
The Dublin West TD called for a “surge capacity” in mental health facilities “for people who are really in desperate situation and they don’t know where to go and we don’t know where to tell them to go either”.
Sinn Féin Dublin Mid-West TD Mark Ward said 2,500 children and young people are waiting for child and adolescent mental health services while more than 8,500 children are waiting for a primary care psychology service. He said that in the past three years 242 children were, admitted into adult psychiatric services, almost 30 of them in the first ten months of last year in what he described as a "draconian practice".
Labour leader Alan Kelly spoke of the impact of the pandemic on hundreds of thousands of elderly people including his own mother and said it was "incredibly bad and sad".
He also called for a one-stop-shop where if someone dies, family “can register the death as part of a central process and it can be filtered out across all State agencies and potentially utilities also”.
Dealing with bereavement during the pandemic is much worse. “I have experienced it myself,” he said. “It is so hard to grieve. It has such a lasting on people’s mental health,” and the grieving process goes on much longer and in a much more difficult way, because of Covid.
Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd called for a day of national commemoration or remembrance to recognise the sacrifice of those who had died because of the pandemic. "It is hugely important to show that these families are not alone and the community does care" and that society does respect them.
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said many GPs had stopped referring patients to primary care mental health services because of extensive waiting lists, increased because of the deployment of staff in mental health services to other areas.
"As a result, the only option for many GPs is simply to prescribe medication, which is in no one's interest," Ms Cairns said.