Mental Health Commission may be given ‘Hiqa-type’ watchdog role

Junior health minister Kathleen Lynch has raised the possibility of extending the role of the Mental Health Commission (MHC) to the inspection of community outpatient mental health services.

Mental Health Commission may be given ‘Hiqa-type’ watchdog role

Ms Lynch, who has responsibility for mental health, made her comments following a tour of a new €15m state-of-the-art acute inpatient psychiatric unit at Cork University Hospital (CUH) yesterday.

The MHC currently inspects inpatient units. Ms Lynch said she considered the MHC to be the ‘Hiqa’, or health watchdog, of the mental health services.

“For that reason, they are hugely important and what they will be looking at in the future I hope will be different,” said Ms Lynch. “For instance, it seems to me that we cannot allow the commission to just be responsible for the acute units. We will have to now take a serious look at how they can become responsible for the community services.”

She said currently the tendency was for understaffed acute units to pull in staff from the community if the commission identified staff shortages and this practice was to the detriment of community services.

Ms Lynch said the imbalance between community and acute services had to be redressed.

She also indicated that she is preparing a replacement strategy for Vision for Change, which will have run its course in 2016.

Vision for Change was the blueprint drawn up for the development of the mental health services between 2006-2016 but mental health experts have repeatedly criticised lack of progress in certain areas of implementation. Ms Lynch said they had written to certain interest groups to nominate representatives on any new group set up to oversee the development of a new strategy.

Ms Lynch said she did not want to see a situation develop where there was a huge lag between successive strategies as had happened in the past.

She said the first ‘Vision’ had been in the 1960s, the second, under Barry Desmond, in the early 1980s, but there was nothing again until 2006’s Vision for Change.

“I do not intend to leave that gap again,” said Ms Lynch. “Never again should we have a gap like that in terms of our mental health services.

“It’s very easy for a service to stagnate. I do intend to put a group together to look at what’s below Vision. I think our concept, our understanding and the general public’s attitudes towards mental health have changed fundamentally and I think then that the policy needs to change as well.”

Ms Lynch said they would “not be throwing out Vision, there’s very good stuff in it, it was revolutionary for its time, but we will be building on it”.

She said it had been her intention to get the ball rolling in relation to a new strategy once a review of the Mental Health Act 2006 was complete, which it now is.

She said she had no plans for a new act, but there may be some amendments.

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