The HSE service plan for 2014 says the previously-promised 250 to 280 posts will be filled during this year. But a spokesman confirmed to the Irish Examiner that they will not be filled until the final quarter of the year, with the recruitment process starting in the summer.
Mental health organisation Grow criticised this decision, saying waiting until the end of the year shows a “complete lack of understanding for the current demands on services”.
The organisation’s chief executive, Michelle Kerrigan, said: “All our efforts to encourage people to seek support for mental health difficulties are redundant if we cannot deliver that support in a timely fashion. The promised new staff are critical to delivery of that support.”
Minister Lynch has defended the delivery of mental health services, and revealed the posts were at the centre of “robust discussions” she had with Enda Kenny, her party leader, Eamon Gilmore, and Dr Reilly in which she stopped short of resigning.
“The proposal on the table was that we would take a look at the new posts coming in, and would it be possible to stagger those. I said no — that mental health was the Cinderella service for years. And that was taken and people went away and reworked it and that was it,” she told the Irish Examiner.
Ms Lynch also said she has a “promise” from Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin that the €15m cut from the mental health budget this year will be re-instated in 2015.
The Coalition had promised in its Programme for Government to ring-fence €35m per year to modernise mental health services. A lower figure of €20m was announced for 2014 in October’s budget.
“During the budget discussions Brendan Howlin phoned me and said he would not be able to give me €35m, but he would be able to give me €20m with a promise to reinstate the additional money next year.
“I agreed to that on the basis that we had at long last got a director in relation to mental health. I felt that in mental health we had achieved a considerable amount in the past two years. I am not unreasonable and have never been unreasonable.”
She said: “I juggle three of the most sensitive areas in this Government. That’s older people, mental health and disability. Any one of those has the potential for crisis. I just made that point and I made it very strongly.”