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FactCheck: Has the government actually cut the mental health budget by €20 million?

FactCheck looks into a major claim that took hold online over the weekend.

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OVER THE WEEKEND, a claim spread online that the government has cut the budget for mental health services by €20 million.

It was much tweeted, the subject of a widely-shared column on TheLiberal.ie (“It’s absolutely despicable to see the government cut mental health funding by €20 million”), and articulated by comedians and activists the Rubberbandits.

Alison Ring from Sligo asked us to look into it, and another reader pointed specifically to the Rubberbandits’ tweet.

(Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie, tweet @TJ_FactCheck, or send us a DM).

Claim: The government has cut €20 million from the mental health budget
Verdict: FALSE

  • The total non-capital budget for mental health services in 2017 is €851.3 million, some €24.7 million higher than this year
  • €50 million in capital spending has also been committed to starting construction on the National Forensic Mental Health Hospital
  • Additional spending on mental health services is €20 million lower than had been expected, based on somewhat ambiguous comments made by Minister of State Helen McEntee on Budget Day

What was said

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

You can watch a video of Helen McEntee’s comments, and a breakdown of the facts, above.

Although the claim of a €20 million cut has been widespread, we are focusing on the Rubberbandits’ tweet, due to the specific request of a FactCheck reader.

They claimed:

The Irish government just cut €20 million from the mental health budget.

The Facts

The claim that the government had cut €20 million from the mental health budget emerged last week, after Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Helen McEntee stated in the Dáil:

In line with my commitment to achieve a full-year allocation of €35 million in additional funding for mental health, I am initiating €35 million in new services for 2017…
As has been widely acknowledged, and as I acknowledged last week, the time lag in new staff taking up posts, and the completion of other preparations for the introduction of these services, it is estimated that the revenue spend in the calendar year for 2017, associated with this increased allocation will be some €15 million.

In other words, €35 million worth of additional mental health services are being started in 2017, but because those services aren’t entirely ready to come on stream yet, only €15 million will be spent on them next year.

Note that these are additional services, and the amounts involved relate to increased spending on mental health.

This reality is in contrast to the impression brought about in many cases, that the total mental health budget itself amounts to only €35 million, and that it will be €20 million lower in 2017 than it is now.

28/4/2016. Metal Health Issues Protests Campaigners oppose the diversion of €12 million in mental health funding in April 2016. The move was reversed after a public outcry. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

For example, this sentence from a column in TheLiberal.ie:

In 2016 it really does beggar belief that, if the Dáil rumours are true, and Simon Harris cuts the mental health budget for 2017 by €20 million from €35 million to €15 million, that the entire country doesn’t take to the streets over it.

This is wrong by a massive margin.

According to figures in this year’s HSE National Service Plan, the total budget for mental health services in Ireland is €826.6 million.

This is composed of €791.6 million in the HSE budget, and €35 million that came from the Department of Health.

In April, it emerged that €12 million of that €35 million was to be diverted elsewhere in the health services, but after a public outcry, it was reinstated.

The Department of Health told FactCheck that in 2017, there would be additional spending of €15 million on mental health services, as well as a further €9.7 million in extra staff costs – meaning the total increased spending on mental health services next year is expected to be €24.7 million.

As well as this, the government has budgeted €50 million to begin work on the National Forensic Mental Health Hospital at Portrane in North Co Dublin.

However, this is capital spending, and is counted separately, but it accounts for Helen McEntee’s tweet in response to the Rubberbandits, in which she claimed the government is “spending €74.7 million more on mental health next year than this year”.

This isn’t quite right, because she is comparing current and capital spending in 2017, with only current spending in 2016.

Figures in the 2016 HSE National Service Plan suggest that a total of €5.33 million was budgeted for capital infrastructure spending on mental health this year (pg 131, 132).

So if you include capital infrastructure in both years, next year’s spending will be at least €901.3 million, which is €69.37 million higher than the €831.93 million in 2016, not €74.7 million higher.

In any case, the gross, non-capital budget for mental health in 2017 is €851.3 million – a 3% increase over 2016.

And in addition to this, €50 million in new capital spending will go on starting the construction of the National Forensic Mental Health Hospital.

The claim that the mental health budget has been cut is therefore FALSE.

“Reversal”

mcentee Minister of State Helen McEntee, speaking in the Dáil last week. Source: Oireachtas.ie

What is true, is that this increase in current spending is not as high as had been expected.

In his Budget speech, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe gave no details on mental health spending, but Minister of State Helen McEntee did, in a press conference later that evening (starts 3:19):

I’m happy to say that I will be able to initiate €35 million in new developments next year. As has been the case with previous years, funding initiated will not always be completed in the same year…

Despite the somewhat ambiguous disclaimer contained in the second half of this, McEntee did not state the full reality – that only €15 million would be spent in 2017.

The only figure mentioned was €35 million, which gave rise to the mistaken impression that this was the amount that would be spent on new services in 2017.

So when McEntee clarified the situation in the Dáil a week later – explaining that only €15 million would in fact be spent on new services next year – it led to a wave of criticism from opposition politicians and activists, and accusations of a “reversal” in the Budget commitment.

But there was no “cut” to the budget. Spending on mental health in 2017 will be higher than spending on mental health in 2016.

The Rubberbandits did not respond to FactCheck’s request for evidence in support of their widely-shared claim on Twitter.

However, they did later post on Facebook:

While the €35 million that was promised towards mental health was indeed cut by €20 million, it’s still an increase from last year. There’s also funding behind a new forensic mental health hospital in Portrane. Things are improving, but not as much as they should.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here.

For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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