Suicide group fails to spend third of budget

A HSE group tasked with battling Ireland’s suicide epidemic failed to spend almost a third of its budget last year due to serious delays in finding someone to lead the organisation.

The director of the National Office of Suicide Prevention (NOSP), Gerry Raleigh, has confirmed the under-spend was directly linked to his new position being left unfilled for most of the year. In a lengthy interview with Irish Medical News, Mr Raleigh, who took up the role in late 2012, said that despite a €7m budget last year, the NOSP spent just €5.19m.

Confirming the shortfall “was an issue when suicide was such a high-risk” problem, he said: “Perhaps the most significant reason was there were three different directors in the office in 2012, so there were leadership changes and, with that, slippage, in terms of plans and implementation.”

Mr Raleigh replaced HSE assistant national director for mental health Martin Rogan, who filled the position on a part-time basis after the departure of Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe in Sept 2012.

This was because the role could not be advertised due to the HSE’s ongoing recruitment embargo, and could only be filled by an internal candidate.

Dr O’Keeffe held the position for three months, between Jul and Sep 2012, before she was seconded to another role in the Department of Health. She had been tasked with replacing the previous full-time director, Geoff Day, who left the NOSP over a lack of resources and staff in 2011.

As revealed by the Irish Examiner at the time, Mr Day had raised repeated concerns over the lack of supports he believed were available to the group.

Irish Association of Suicidology president and Fine Gael TD Dan Neville said while “there are good people in the NOSP”, the delays meant a “full year has been neutralised” because decisions could not be made.

The HSE said there were “a number of significant pressures faced by the NOSP” last year, including “staff changes and... budgetary pressures”.

According to the latest NOSP annual report for 2010, published in September, 495 people officially took their own lives, down from 506 in 2008. However, when undetermined deaths are taken into account, the rate rose, from 589 to 618, during the same period.

Meanwhile, suicide prevention charity Console has reported the number of calls to its farm and rural stress helpline has surged 300%. The group has repeatedly said suicide rates are higher than officially recorded.

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