Mental Health Reform is extremely alarmed by reports that the Government plans to use the €35 million promised for community mental health services to offset the deficit in the Health Service Executive. Coming just days ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on 10th September, these threatened cuts are yet another blow to mental health. Mental Health Reform has called a protest against the proposed cuts to mental health, and invites the public to show their support for the protest at Government Buildings, Merrion Street, Dublin 2 on Friday 7th September from 1pm.
In Budget 2012, the Government committed to investing €35 million in the development of community based mental health services, including 370 staff for adult, child and adolescent Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs), 34 staff for suicide prevention and 10 staff for primary care counselling services. This investment is a crucial part of the agreed transition from the old model of institutional, hospital-based care towards the holistic, community-based care envisaged by the Government’s own mental health policy A Vision for Change. To date, none of the appointments have been made, despite assurances by Minister Kathleen Lynch in the Seanad in July that the posts would be in place by September.
Mental Health Reform Director, Orla Barry, commented: “once again, mental health is being seen as the easy target for budget cuts, because people experiencing mental health difficulties are sometimes not in a position to stand up and shout about it. It is wholly unacceptable that the Government’s commitment is not being honoured.”
“It is important to stress that the €35 million promised in Budget 2012 was not new money. In reality, these funds came out of the mental health budget last year, and represent a transfer of funds from one set of services (hospital-based services) to another (community-based services). Even with the proposed €35 million, the mental health budget still took a cut of 1% in 2012. Indeed, since the €35 million has not yet materialised and the staff for CMHTs have not yet been appointed, the mental health budget will have incurred a cut of almost 6% by the end of 2012, unless the Government’s commitment to invest in community services is honoured.”
Ms. Barry continued: “this threat to cut the mental health budget highlights once again the urgent need for the appointment of a Director for Mental Health with budgetary control. Mental Health Reform is concerned that the proposed HSE Governance Bill only allows for the new Director for Mental Health to be recruited from the pool of existing National Directors. This important post needs to be filled by someone with an understanding of and experience in modern, community-based mental health services.”
“We know that the HSE is ready to make appointments to these posts. We want these posts by the end of the year. Given that trust has broken down, we now need a written guarantee from the Department of Health that these posts will be filled by the end of 2012, along with a detailed breakdown of posts and a clear timeline. If the Government continues to chip away at services, they risk turning an economic crisis into a mental health crisis”, Ms. Barry concluded.