Alcoholism alone insufficient for access to treatment, says HSE West

HSE West criteria for addiction counselling ‘unacceptable’, says Trevor Ó Clochartaigh

Anyone in Galway West and South Mayo with an alcohol problem will now also have to present with a mental health issue before they c an access treatment, under new HSE West instructions.

Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said a HSE West email asked personnel “to confirm that all addiction counsellors in their areas only treat people who have mental health issues as well as addiction”.

He said “GPs will no longer be able to refer patients with an alcohol addiction to the HSE services unless they have been diagnosed with a co-morbid mental health illness”.

Mr Ó Clochartaigh described this as “totally unacceptable”, particularly when Christmas was a pressure point for families where someone has an alcohol addiction problem.


Minister of State for National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne said she was unhappy with the answer she received from the health service on the issue and said she intended to find out what was going on.

Ms Byrne, who has responsibility for communities and drugs strategy told the Senator she had asked the HSE how it planned to reconfigure addiction services in the west to ensure all individuals “who will present with an alcohol addiction will be catered for in the coming weeks”.

Poly-use problem

Senator Ó Clochartaigh said there was a particular problem in Galway where services “tend to be pigeon-holed either into drugs or alcohol services, where most people presenting with one or other of those issues have a poly-use problem”.

He said the Galway city alcohol strategy showed 38 per cent of alcohol drinkers screened positive for alcohol problems, 22 per cent for alcohol abuse and 11 per cent for alcohol dependency.

Mr Ó Clochartaigh said Galway has a population of 75,000 but only one full-time and one part-time counsellor for adult problem drinkers. Waterford has a population of 47,000 but five counsellors for drinkers as well as one outreach work, and a number of other personnel.

He added that limiting the service where GPs can refer people to the alcohol addiction service in Merlin Park Hospital in Galway flies in the face of a public health policy “that seeks to reduce the number engaged in the harmful use of alcohol”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times