Hiring dates for key staff removed from service plan by HSE heads

Targets for filling mental health posts taken out of plan prior to publication

In private correspondence, Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch said the HSE’s target for the recruitment of mental health specialist posts was too late and would result in many of the posts not being filled this year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

In private correspondence, Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch said the HSE’s target for the recruitment of mental health specialist posts was too late and would result in many of the posts not being filled this year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 


Health Service Executive managers removed target dates for recruitment of mental health staff from the executive’s service plan for 2013 shortly before it was published, it has emerged.

A total of €35 million has been ring-fenced this year to appoint 477 staff to front-line teams this year involved in areas such as children’s mental health and suicide prevention.

Last January the HSE published its service plan which sets out the type and volume of services to be delivered over the coming year.

An unpublished draft of the plan contained dates for the recruitment of mental health specialist posts which indicated that the positions would not be filled until the final quarter of this year.


Held accountable
In private correspondence, Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch said this target was too late and would result in many of the posts not being filled this year.

“This is not acceptable,” she wrote, in an email to the HSE’s director general-designate, Tony O’Brien, last January. “The proposed positions must be appointed in the second quarter of 2013 at the latest and I will not accept any plans to delay these posts until the fourth quarter.”

In response, Mr O’Brien said the fourth quarter of the year was the deadline for the completion of all recruitment. This meant the HSE would be held accountable for failing to meet this target.

He said setting a target of the second quarter of the year was not realistic and that target completion dates would be removed from the final, published version of the plan.

“Given the number of posts, I would be reticent about including in the service plan an accountable commitment to having all of the posts in place by the second quarter 2013 because I believe it is unlikely to be achieved in that timescale and I am averse to putting in targets which I believe are likely to fail,” he wrote.


Delays in recruitment
He said some of the specialist posts would take longer than six months to

fill.

“I hope that you will be reassured of my clear intention to deliver on the posts for both mental health and indeed primary care set out in the 2013 service plan. However, the relevant column (target completion) will be removed from appendix 1 & appendix 2 in the draft service plan,” he wrote, in an email obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The delays in recruitment come at a time of rising strain on our mental health services.

It is estimated that there are about 1,500 vacant mental health posts as a result of retirements and the embargo on health sector recruitment.

Internal HSE records indicate some mental health teams in the State are under considerable strain due to gaps in staffing. The clinical director of services in one area has warned of services being “decimated” and an “exodus” of nurses who are retiring.

As well as increasing numbers seeking support for mental health services, new studies indicate that Ireland has one of the highest suicide rates among young people.