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Report that mental health funding to be diverted to "more politically sensitive" areas condemned

The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland and Mental Health Reform have expressed their “dismay”.

Image: Shutterstock/ljubaphoto

VARIOUS GROUPS HAVE expressed their ‘dismay’ at the news that a significant portion of state funding that had been ring-fenced for mental health services may be diverted to other areas within the Department of Health.

A report in this morning’s Irish Times suggested that junior health minister Kathleen Lynch had written a letter to the Department of Health last week, in which she voiced her strong objection to the move.

Lynch is quoted in that letter as saying there are “no circumstances where I could agree to one-third of my budget for developments in mental health being transferred to another service for 2016″.

€35 million was allocated in last October’s budget specifically for the bolstering of mental health services in Ireland.

The latest reports suggest that €12 million of that money is to be diverted to other areas.

Dismay

Several groups have today voiced their objections to the diversion of that funding.

The College of Psychiatrists in Ireland expressed its “dismay” at the news that Lynch is under pressure to allow mental health funds to be dispersed to “more politically sensitive” areas.

“The percentage of the Irish Healthcare Budget dedicated to Mental Health Services already lags behind that of similar democracies. Mental illness affects the lives of more than 1 in 5 Irish people,” the college said in a statement.

“This must be resisted as scandalous and discriminatory,” said the college’s director of communication and public education Dr John Hillery.

Meanwhile, director of Mental Health Reform Dr Shari McDaid told TheJournal.ie that there is a “pattern” to such budget dispersal.

“This is nothing new. In 2007, after the mental health plan was published, €24 million was diverted elsewhere, which led to the government making a decision in 2008 not to give any more such money to the HSE because it was concerned about transparency about where it was going,” she said.

Mental health services are being seen as a soft touch. They are already being asked to deal with extra funding pressures from within their current cost base, unlike other parts of the health services which are being given extra funding to deal with pressures like pay scales and increments.

McDaid says that she “doesn’t know” where the funds were supposed to be diverted to.

“What is clear is that mental health needs to be high up the food chain when it comes to funding,” she said.

We have 11,000 people presenting as self-harming at emergency departments every year. There is a huge need for mental health services in this country.

In a statement, the Department of Health said that the 2016 HSE Service Plan was agreed and signed off by Government last December, and sets out on page 8 “that additional funding for specific initiatives in the areas of mental health, primary care, therapy services for young people and the nursing task force pilot implementation will be allocated as specific implementation plans are agreed”.

This is the case every year, said the department.

Proposals for the €35m for mental health (see pages 64-69 of the Service Plan), principally involving the recruitment of extra staff for new service developments including early intervention and counselling services, are at an advanced stage. Staff recruitment does take time, and the Service Plan provides that time related savings from these and other planned initiatives in the areas set out above, on a once-off basis, would be used to maintain services in home care and transitional care beds, and for vaccine procurement, but not for hospitals, acute services, or to address waiting lists.

It said that the outgoing Government provided an extra €160 million for mental health services during its term.

The extra funding for 2016 will be used principally to enhance services and recruit additional staff.

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