SINN FÉIN has criticised the government’s commitment to safeguarding mental health after it emerged that most of the funding specifically allocated to hire new mental health workers in 2012 was spent elsewhere.
The Irish Times this morning reported that only 17 mental health staff were hired in 2012, even though €35 million was allocated in December of last year for the recruitment of 414 new mental health staff, which was supposed to include dozens of staff specialising in suicide prevention.
The junior minister responsible for mental health, Kathleen Lynch, told the Irish Times that she would try to have the money which was instead used to address the HSE’s overspend for 2012 – of some €365 million – returned for next year.
Her assurances were not enough for Sinn Féin’s health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, however, who said Lynch had previously told him the €35 million was “in her back pocket” and would not be re-appropriated for use elsewhere.
“The Minister of State’s belated admission that most of the €35 million was diverted and most of the promised new posts were never filled shows that the government’s words on the importance of addressing mental health and suicide ring hollow,” he said.
“They have repeatedly pointed to the importance of primary care and early intervention in mental health, yet their promised initiatives have not materialised in 2012. The same promise and the same allocation – €35 million – has been made for 2013.”
Ó Caoláin said he would be urging the all-party Oireachtas group on mental health to maintain its pressure on the government to deliver on its promises regarding mental health.
Lynch said recruitment was continuing for about 270 of the posts, with some of those staff due to begin work in late December.
In October, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he would ask Lynch to brief independent Deputy Thomas Pringle on how the ring-fenced €35 million was being used.