Ireland's mental health services 'very much behind' other EU states

Irish Hospital Consultants Association says 30% of permanent consultant psychiatrist posts are vacant - one of the highest for any medical specialty
Ireland's mental health services 'very much behind' other EU states

Ireland currently has neither the resources nor the number of consultant psychiatrists required to provide quality, timely care to those in need, says

Ireland is an "outlier" and "very much behind" other European countries when it comes to mental health services, according to new figures compiled by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA).

At present, there are only 22 acute mental health beds per 100,000 population, compared with the EU average of 70 per 100,000.

The IHCA says that 30% of permanent consultant psychiatrist posts here are vacant - one of the highest vacancy rates for any medical specialty.

Consultant Liaison psychiatrist Dr Anne Doherty said this is leading to difficult choices for Irish doctors.

“When I graduated from medical school in 2005, there were 4,000 acute mental health beds in Ireland. That number has now decreased to 1,000. 

"In real terms, what that means is that for every four patients we would have admitted to hospital in 2005, we would only admit one today,” she said.

Dr Doherty said consultants now regularly had to make very tough choices about "who gets a bed and who doesn’t."

"Inpatient care now is only reserved for the most seriously ill patients.” 

Ireland's ineffective mental health treatment services were prompting many trained psychiatrists to move abroad for work.

"Because these countries' health services are functioning better than ours, it’s very difficult for Irish doctors to then decide to come home." 

The effect of Covid

Dr Doherty said that the Covid-19 pandemic has only compounded the issue. Delayed treatments are now leading to longer stays for patients with severe mental illnesses, in hospitals that are already stretched beyond capacity.

According to the IHCA, growing waiting lists for diagnosis and treatment in other areas of medicine are also having knock-on effects for psychiatric care as patients develop secondary mental health symptoms.

Dr Doherty says that only through increasing bed capacity, establishing mental health teams, and recruiting consultants can the shortcoming in Ireland’s mental health services be addressed.

IHCA President, Professor lan Irvine said that Ireland currently has neither the resources nor the number of consultant psychiatrists required to provide quality, timely care to those in need.

"The appointment of additional consultants is the key enabler required to tackle the unacceptable waiting lists in our hospitals and mental health services," he said.

Prof Irvine said the Government’s latest mental health strategy, published last year, provided "no clear plan to address the significant deficits in our mental health services."

"The new policy kicked the problem down the road with a suggestion of a further review of acute inpatient capacity. This is simply not good enough.

"As Ireland moves towards a plan for reopening our economy and society, we must start to focus decision-makers' minds on addressing the fallout from Covid on healthcare."

Prof Irvine said action must be taken now by Government and the health authorities to prevent another crisis in Irish hospitals.

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