Half the EU average of acute beds and consultants pose challenges for new mental health strategy

A new mental health strategy launched this week fails to address "gaping deficits” in staffing, as well as bed shortages and low levels of funding, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) warns.
Half the EU average of acute beds and consultants pose challenges for new mental health strategy
The number of psychiatrists in Ireland — six per 100,000 population — is half the European average as is the number of acute beds available, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA).says.

A new mental health strategy launched this week fails to address "gaping deficits” in staffing, as well as bed shortages and low levels of funding, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) warns.

The organisation, representing consultant doctors, says the new 10-year ‘Sharing the Vision’ strategy is “aspirational” and “short on concrete priorities”.

The number of psychiatrists in Ireland — six per 100,000 population — is half the European average as is the number of acute beds available, the organisation says.

Funding for mental health services is also half that of most Northern European countries.

IHCA president, Dr Donal O’Hanlon, said the current number of 440 consultants working in services should be doubled to 858, as previously recommended.

Around 50 psychiatrist posts remain vacant and this, the organisation said, stems from a 30% salary cut for new entrants introduced in 2012.

“The majority of the 99 recommendations do not address the current gaping deficits in manpower or frontline resources,” Dr O’Hanlon said.

Plans to extend child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to young people up to the age of 25 were also called into question, given that just three-quarters of the 74 CAMHS beds are open at any one time.

It is also of concern, the IHCA said, that the “inappropriate” admission of children to adult units is deemed acceptable in the strategy “instead of having a zero tolerance on this practice”.

“The funding for mental health services needs to be increased to deliver timely, high quality care to patients.

"Addressing the lack of consultant psychiatrists, inpatient beds and frontline resources would resolve most of the problems facing the mental health service,” Dr Donal O’Hanlon said.

The Irish College for General Practitioners (ICGP) has also called for CAMHS waiting lists to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Dr Tony Cox, medical director of the ICGP, said “issues around long waiting times and difficulty accessing these services need to be addressed”.

The Irish Advocacy Network IAN) welcomed a commitment to “re-emphasise” the right to advocacy and develop more services but said more detail is needed.

IAN training and development officer, Jim Walsh, said standards are needed for advocacy services and could be enshrined in legislation as in other countries: “We welcome the commitment to re-emphasise the right to advocacy and to develop more services but we need a commitment on the cost implications, on scaling up staffing levels, and setting a minimum standard for advocates to safeguard people."

Mr Walsh also welcomed the “positive” commitment to develop peer-led projects in the community.

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