Watchdog warns on mental health care


The State’s watchdog on mental health has warned there is no longer any independent monitoring body examining whether the Government is delivering on its pledges to modernise psychiatric services.

A Vision for Change, the government blueprint on developing mental health services, was published seven years ago today.

Each year an independent monitoring group, including mental health experts and service users, has reported on progress by health authorities in delivering the seven-year policy. The group dissolved last summer after it reached the end of its lifespan.

John Saunders, the chairman of the Mental Health Commission, said it was important to ensure there was ongoing independent monitoring of the Government’s implementation of the blueprint.

“There is currently no public plan to review the implementation of A Vision for Change in 2013 as envisaged by the Vision for Change document, which is a matter that needs to be addressed,” Mr Saunders said.

He said the policy – to move away from Victorian-era institutions towards community-based services – was widely supported. But he noted that previous reports by the independent monitoring group had revealed insufficient community services were in place.

Positive note

On a positive note, the number of people in old-style institutions had fallen from 1,352 at the end of 2009 to 394 in January 2013. But Mr Saunders warned: “While these gradual closures are good progress, the fact remains that the putting in place of supports required for delivering effective and modern care in the community is slow.”

The campaign group, Mental Health Reform, also called on the Government to prioritise implementing A Vision for Change.

It noted that in the years since it was published in 2006, the proportion of spending on mental health services had decreased from 7.2 per cent to 5.3 per cent of the overall health budget.

Consistent relationship

The group’s director, Orla Barry, said: “People want to have a consistent relationship with a professional, to be listened to and to receive an offer of treatment that doesn’t focus exclusively on medication. All of this requires skilled staffing.

“We welcome the commitment by Government to appoint a range of multidisciplinary staff for community mental health services. We need to see these appointments happen without further delay.”

The group said it welcomed the fact that the HSE was now advertising for the position of Director of Mental Health, a post that will report to the director general of the HSE.

Suicide Rail network deaths

Almost 100 people have died by suicide on the Republic’s rail network over the past decade. The number of deaths varies between 11 suicides in 2001 and 2004 and three in 2009. Last year, seven deaths by suicide were recorded on the rail network.

This is the first time figures have been compiled showing the extent of suicide and the railways. Previous research indicates that the majority of people who take their own life in this manner are male.

Ninety-six deaths are recorded between 2000 and 2011 by the Railway Safety Commission, which has compiled the figures in response to a Dáil question to be answered today.

Helplines- Samaritans: 1890- 200 091; Console: 1800-201 890; Childline: 1800-666 666. PAUL CULLEN Health Correspondent