A union representing psychiatric nurses is calling for the establishment of a dedicated minister for mental health, and says the government strategy for delivering better services fails to implement key elements of its plan — 10 years since its launch.

Addressing the Psychiatric Nurses Association’s annual delegate conference in Cavan yesterday, general secretary, Des Kavanagh, said that the results of a study to mark the ‘Vision for Change’ (VFC) strategy’s 10th anniversary show the plan “has not come close to achieving its goals”.

“VFC promised a great deal of hope when it was launched 10 years ago to those working in the mental health services and service users — that we would see a radical transformation in how services are delivered, with significant investment in facilities and staff driven by a political will to achieve the VFC goals within its 10-year life span,” said Mr Kavanagh.

“Those hopes have not been realised and our findings today confirm that. A great deal of political lip service has been paid to VFC without the support of resources or a political determination to see the various elements of the strategy put in place,” he said.

The Department of Health said the

strategy was responsible for “providing accessible, community-based, specialist services for people with mental illness”.

However the survey, carried out in conjunction with the Royal College of Surgeons, found 67% of members said they do not have “a fully-staffed community-based multi- disciplinary rehabilitation and recovery mental health service”.

Seven out of 10 said services “have not been evaluated with meaningful performance indicators annually to assess the added value the service is contributing to the mental health of the local catchment area population”.

Members also cited a lack of high-observation beds, crisis services, and “inconsistent service development nationally” as issues yet to be resolved by the strategy.

“The build-up of fully-staffed community based multi-disciplinary mental health services as the main method of treatment delivery remains a mere aspiration across most of the country,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“We now need a minister for mental illness, a minister who commits to understanding mental illness, not someone who will ponder ‘I often ask myself if mental illness really exists’, but a minister who understands the pain of those in the depths of depression, the horrors of those living with serious psychosis, the challenges of living with bipolar disorder and the many other serious illnesses which effect the human across the life span.”

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