President Higgins: Urged to be a ‘moral advocate’ for mental health services.

An open letter to President Higgins

Dear President Higgins,

AS A lifelong campaigner for social justice with a long and distinguished record of support for the underprivileged, marginalised and the excluded in Irish society, I wish to draw to your attention the current plight of the mental health services throughout the country.

Since the foundation of the state the Irish mental health service has suffered from neglect, under-funding and the stigma of a service marginalised and forgotten behind the high walls of the mental hospitals. While some progress was made in the 1970s, it was not until the publication of the 1984 report Planning For The Future that a more enlightened and progressive attitude to the delivery of mental health service took place.

Then, a Vision for Change was published at the height of the Celtic Tiger. Regrettably that tiger bypassed the Irish mental health service and monies promised to implement Vision for Change never materialised and were instead diverted to other areas of the health service. Now that the Celtic Tiger has become an extinct species the mental health service is again suffering disproportionately with funding and staffing levels being slashed and monies from mental health again being diverted to other areas of the health service

Over the past three years the mental health service has lost over 20% of nursing staff and in 2011 funding on mental health dropped to an all-time low of just 4.9% of the total health budget, compared with over 13% in the mid-1980s.

A Vision for Change recommended that a minimum of 8.4% of the total health budget would have to be spent on mental health to implement its recommendations.

While constitutional restrictions on the Office of President would not allow you to become involved politically in advocating for a better deal from Government for the mental health services, I believe you could and should become a moral advocate for a better deal for the mental health service and the people dependant on it for care.

This could be done by you visiting a number of institutional and community mental health facilities throughout the state, advocating for implementation of the 2006 report Vision for Change and by lending your moral support and encouragement to the clients and staff of the mental health services at a time when funding and morale are at an all-time low.

Instead of implementation of Vision for Change, what the Irish mental health service is now facing is “Vision for Closure”, with the systematic closure of both existing institutional and community mental health services throughout the country. Here in Kerry we do not have a single community mental health team as recommended in Vision for Change.

In the last month alone in Kerry, five nurses were withdrawn from community-based services and returned to institutional based care, due to the shortages of nurses. Ward closures are proposed for 2012 with no provision for alternative community or institutional based services being put in place.

Long-stay clients in their 70s and 80s in St Finan’s Hospital are threatened with movement to private or other state nursing homes against their expressed wishes. These clients have spent the last 30 to 40 years in St Finan’s and have expressed the wish to live out their live in the surroundings and with the people and staff they have grown accustomed to. Any threat to “evict” such clients would be a betrayal of trust and a breach of their fundamental human rights.

Trusting that your Presidency will be able to lend support to the Irish mental health services in as many ways as possible over the coming seven years.

Yours Sincerely,

Cormac Williams, Psychiatric Nurses Association Kerry

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