The Irish Times view on mental health funding: a chance to improve

The percentage of people with a psychological or emotional condition increased by almost 30 per cent between 2011 and 2016

Census data shows that the percentage of people with a psychological or emotional condition increased by almost 30 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

Census data shows that the percentage of people with a psychological or emotional condition increased by almost 30 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

 

The provision of €1 billion in funding for mental health services in Budget 2019 has been widely welcomed. It includes some €55m in new development funding – much needed by the perennial Cinderella of the health system.

Progress in implementing many aspects of the ‘Vision for Change’ has been slow. The allocation of an additional 9 per cent in mental health funding for next year represents a significant opportunity to drive the policy forward.

Census data shows the percentage of people with a psychological or emotional condition increased by almost 30 per cent between 2011 and 2016. The Healthy Ireland survey reports that almost 10 per cent of the population over age 15 has a “probable mental health problem” at any given time.

The needs of children and young people are even more acute: almost 20 per cent of young people aged 19-24 have had a mental health disorder, with some 15 per cent of 11-13 year-olds also having experienced significant psychological illness.

The HSE must not be permitted to repeat its failure, following a number of recent health budgets, to fully spend its mental health allocation

Services have struggled to keep pace with rising demand. Child and adolescent mental health services are beyond breaking point as they attempt to deal with a 26 per cent increase in referrals.

In December 2017, there were almost 8,000 people on the waiting list for primary care psychology, almost 30 per cent of whom were waiting more than 12 months to be seen.

While the Minister for State with responsibility for mental health, Jim Daly, chose to highlight a number of new e-mental health initiatives in his Budget statement, these will not lessen the pressures facing staff and patients on the mental health frontline. While the scale of mental health investment is welcome, the details of spending priorities have yet to be outlined.

The Minister must drive the HSE forward in producing an early and detailed plan for specific service developments.

The HSE must not be permitted to repeat its failure, following a number of recent health budgets, to fully spend its mental health allocation. And there can be no justification for using unspent funds to shore up the health budget shortfall which is likely to emerge again next year.

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