Health Minister Leo Varadkar has been accused of raiding this year’s mental health budget to fund other services after admitting in the Dáil that funds for new psychiatric nurses will now be spent elsewhere.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher made the claim after Mr Varadkar confirmed the move during a health debate. It was first alleged by his outgoing junior minister, Kathleen Lynch.
During a Dáil speech on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar confirmed an estimated €12m of the ringfenced €35m budget for mental health this year would instead be spent on home-help and other areas. He said this was because unexpected delays in recruiting the extra nurses have occurred, meaning the money can be spent elsewhere now, with the full funding for the new nurses taken from next year’s health budget.
Officials said the remark, made in a section of the speech not read in the Dáil due to time constraints, does not mean funding has been removed from mental health.
There are claims within his own department that the money may not have been available in the first place and that the December 2016 commitment was focused on February’s election.
Mr Kelleher said: “The outgoing government has consistently raided the budget for mental health.
“It’s simply not good enough for a solemn commitment in a programme for government to be broken so often and it was fundamentally disingenuous for the government and the HSE to announce €35m extra for mental health while knowing full well such funding would never be provided.
“The current funding levels are insufficient to deliver the staffing levels envisaged by A Vision for Change. Mental health staffing levels are around 75% lower than what was recommended in that strategy.”
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