Consider top-up allowances for mental health staff, report recommends

Oireachtas report on mental health services says lack of funding the root of the problems

Independent Senator Joan Freeman, who chaired the Oireachtas joint committee, which was set up  to produce a cross-party report on a long-term plan for mental healthcare. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Independent Senator Joan Freeman, who chaired the Oireachtas joint committee, which was set up to produce a cross-party report on a long-term plan for mental healthcare. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

A top-up pay allowance for psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists should be considered by Government, to address a staffing crisis in mental health services, an Oireachtas report has recommended.

The final report of the Oireachtas joint committee on the future of mental healthcare, published on Wednesday, recommended major capital investment in mental health facilities, to bring them into line with required standards.

The committee concluded current pay was a “significant factor hindering recruitment and retention” of staff in mental health services. The report said a lack of funding was the root of the problems with mental health services.

The Mental Health Commission, which inspects psychiatric facilities, should be given greater powers to impose penalties on service providers if they fail to comply with regulations. Currently the commission do not have the power to assess to enforce sanctions on what are known as ‘unregulated’ mental health services, such as community residences.

The committee said extra funding should be targeted at high-risk demographics, in particular the Traveller community.

National protocol

The Department of Health and the HSE should develop a national protocol around the use of smartphones and social media, with the input of schools, and parents and young people. the report said.

The report warned due to a decrease in acute psychiatric services, the prison system had become “a de facto extension of the mental health system”.

The committee, chaired by Independent Senator Joan Freeman, was set up in July 2017 to produce a cross-party report on a long-term plan for mental health care. The report said the committee “strongly believes” the pressures put on emergency departments by patients presenting with mental health issues, and the lack of appropriate out-of-hours services available, was a “huge problem”.

A shift towards access to 24/7 psychiatric care is “sorely needed”, the report said. However this had to be accompanied with additional funding and recruitment of extra staff.

The report also recommended as a stop-gap measure that “the number of acute beds should be increased to 50 per 100,000 over the next three years”.

The HSE should appoint a national director for mental health within the next six months, to oversee provision of the service, it said.