A new national strategy for psychiatry is needed to address gaps in the recently ‘refreshed’ 10-year mental health strategy, the President of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has said.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Dr William Flannery said psychiatrists were “dismayed and disillusioned” by the recently launched ‘Share the Vision’ strategy which, focused more on wellbeing than on psychiatry.
The strategy, he said, trivialised and stigmatised mental health and failed to focus on more serious psychiatric illnesses and disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar affective disorder.
“I struggled to find any specific reference to them in the strategy,” Dr Flannery said, adding the new strategy placed greater emphasis on mild to moderate illness by the outgoing Minister's own admission.
“It should be accepted as it is, which is a strategy for the mental wellness of the population. They need to have strategy for psychiatry. This is a strategy for the mental wellness of us all but it is not a strategy for psychiatric illness,” he said.
“When you take into account the wider picture and the lack of training posts for psychiatrists you could interpret it as a policy to exclude those with a psychiatric illness and some of the language used, such as mental health difficulties, is trivialising and stigmatising,” he added.
Dr Flannery, who works in adult mental health and addiction services, said psychiatrists were not consulted on the ‘refreshed’ 10-year strategy, which also lacked funding and manpower commitments.
“This document isn’t funded but they spent money on outside agencies for this report,” Dr Flannery said.
“I’m curious to know why they put such effort into getting outside agencies involved and paying for them and not including us or allied health professionals in contributing to this strategy,” he added.
The Covid-19 pandemic, he said, has already “stressed” an “underfunded and overburdened” mental health service and heightened the need for more resources.
Dr Flannery welcomed “positive” commitments in the programme for government to consider appointing a Chief Psychiatrist in the Department of Health and a Mental Health Director in the HSE, which would provide a "strong and separate presence" within the HSE and Department.
A Minister for Mental Health, "who sits as close as possible to the cabinet table” is also needed and the Department of Children should be retained, he added.
The next government, he said, must deliver on long-standing commitments made in the original ‘A Vision for Change’ blueprint 14 years ago and double consultant numbers and funding levels to €2 billion as a matter of priority.
“We will be asking the Department of Health what is the medical manpower strategy for psychiatrists. Before the crisis we had a cap on the number of consultants we train and we know now there are junior doctors who do not have training jobs, including many who returned from abroad,” Dr Flannery said.
“There are around 100 consultant posts that are either unfilled or incorrectly filled in the system and we know from our own estimates that there has to be a doubling of staffing levels,” he added.
To address gaps in the ‘refreshed’ strategy the College is also calling on the Department to set up a taskforce to focus on delivering new national clinical programmes for psychiatry: “We would also like to see a taskforce to continue the good work that was being carried out under ‘A Vision for Change’ and further develop national clinical programmes”.