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Elderly mental health services 'seriously under-resourced' and need 'urgent improvement', report warns

Older people are facing a mental health “perfect storm” due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Image: Shutterstock/BaanTaksinStudio

MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES for older people in Ireland are in need of urgent improvement and the situation is set to deteriorate due to a rapidly aging population, a new report has warned.

The Mental Health Commission report highlights an “alarming” under-provision of acute mental health beds and “serious under-resourcing” of community mental health services for the elderly.

The document describes Covid-19 as a mental health “perfect storm” for the elderly because they face higher mortality rates from the disease as well as the difficulties posed by self-isolation and social-distancing measures.

It says the threat posed by the virus means the elderly must be provided with more single-room accommodation in residential and acute mental health care settings, with adequately staffed community teams and other supports provided to enable them to stay at home as long as possible.

Written by Dr Susan Finnerty, inspector of mental health services for the Mental Health Commission, the report highlights that population projections show that the number of people aged 65 years and over will increase significantly from a level of 629,800 in 2016 to almost 1.6 million by 2051.

The Central Statistics Office predicts that over 470,000 of those will be aged over 80.

age-chart

The report notes that 4.5% of Ireland’s older people live in a congregated or residential care setting. This is approximately 40% higher than the current European average. Dr Finnerty said the level of service in these settings is “already substandard in numerous areas.”

The document highlights “serious under-resourcing” of community mental health services.

There are 43 older people teams across Ireland, just 66% of the number of teams recommended by the ‘Vision for Change’ mental health national policy framework which was published in 2006.

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Of the teams that do exist, they are only staffed to 54% of the recommended level.

Ireland also has just 1.2 dedicated acute mental health beds for older people per 100,000. This compares very poorly with 6 per 100,000 in England and 9.7 in Northern Ireland.

It also said the delivery of in-patient mental health care in general adult mental health units, rather than in dedicated units for older people, “constitutes a risk to their safety and does not meet their therapeutic needs”.

The reports calls for the creation of a single integrated system of needs assessment and service provision that aims to promote alignment and collaboration between the care sectors.

“Older people’s mental health is an increasingly important area of public policy that does not get the attention it deserves,” Dr Finnerty said.

The levels of unmet mental health needs amongst older people are extremely high and improving current services is necessary.

About the author:

Ceimin Burke

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