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Call for urgent increase in mental health funding to tackle ‘perfect storm’

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association is calling for an immediate increase of 300 acute adult psychiatric inpatient beds.

Image: PA

CONSULTANTS ARE CALLING for increased spending on Ireland’s mental health services, as they warn that acute services are at “breaking point”.

Launching the Irish Hospital Consultants Association’s pre-budget submission today, Mater Hospital consultant Dr Ger O’Connor warned that the Irish health service is facing a “perfect storm” as the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic meet the existing weaknesses of mental health services in Ireland.

The body, which represents 95% of consultants in Ireland, is calling for an immediate increase of 300 acute adult psychiatric inpatient beds, with specialist services for those over 65 and for those with severe and long-term mental illness.

Dr Anne Doherty, chairwoman of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association psychiatry committee said there are instances in which patients who need to be admitted for care are being turned away purely because of the bed shortage. 

“We have a substantially fewer beds than we would have when I was a trainee. And at that point in history, we would have have admitted people if we were worried about them in any way,” she said.

“Whereas now, we’re not in a position to do that anymore, so we’re looking at a very creative ways of trying to manage people safely in the community, which isn’t always easy given that community services are equally underfunded and under resourced.

“And many areas don’t have the crisis teams that are kind of a normal standard of care in most other European countries, so that it really does limit what’s what’s available for people in crisis, it’s a travesty really.”

Consultants are also asking the government to immediately increase operational beds for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) by 50%.

Ireland currently has four CAMHS inpatient services, located in Dublin, Galway and Cork.

The consultants today warned that Ireland is “treating children with psychiatric illnesses as second-class citizens, as it would not expect those with other medical condition to ensure similar difficulties”.

“A zero tolerance is required on the continued inappropriate admission of children and adolescents to adult mental health units,” they warn.

According to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, Ireland’s current mental health budget is €2,000 per 1,000 people below the spend 13 years ago.

The body said that health minister Stephen Donnelly needs to solve the salary issues and difficult working conditions that are driving medics out the country and causing a recruitment crisis in mental health services.

“The government needs to end the Consultant salary inequity imposed unilaterally in 2012 as it is the root cause of Ireland’s Consultant recruitment and retention crisis,” the pre-budget submission states.

Covid-19 has helped to fuel a surge in the number of people requiring mental health treatment, consultants said on Tuesday.

Eating disorders, self-harm and addiction are among the most common areas of mental healthcare workers have seen increases in during the pandemic.

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Dr Elizabeth Barrett, a consultant at Temple Street children’s hospital, said that when lockdown restrictions eased for the first time last year they saw a huge increase in young patients.

Dr Barrett said that at some points, she saw “twice the number of patients we would normally see in a month”.

In the upcoming Budget this autumn, they said that the Government needs to provide “realistic” funding to mental health services.

Dr Anne Doherty said it was up to the government to decide where to allocate funds in the health system.

“We’re not going to talk about defunding anything.

“All we can say is that our mental health services are at crisis point,” she said.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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