Preserve mental health staffing

THE recent special report on mental health was a welcome contribution to the ongoing campaign to improve mental health services in Ireland.

While some very significant developments, such as the commitment to appoint a Director for Mental Health with full executive and budgetary powers, are a sign of the Government’s commitment to mental health, the lack of adequate resources is not.

The fact that the HSE now concedes that it will not be possible to fulfil all aspects of the Government policy (A Vision for Change) due to monetary restraints, is very worrying. What we must get away from is the notion that we cannot afford to have good mental health services.

We cannot afford to have poor mental health services: Mental health difficulties cost the Irish economy around 2%, (approx €2.5 billion), of GNP annually, and most of the costs are in the labour market as a result of lost employment, absenteeism, lost productivity and premature retirement.

While Mental Health Reform welcomes the commitment in the Programme for Government of €35million from within the health budget to develop community mental health teams and services as outlined in A Vision for Change, this commitment must be realised and this money must be invested in the delivery of community-based, recovery-focused mental health services. Mental health services have already experienced a disproportionate loss of staff as a result of the public sector staff moratorium — 20% of posts lost in the HSE in 2010 were from mental health services, even though mental health workers represent just 9% of the HSE workforce. This means that the establishment of full community mental health teams has been very slow.

The Government must ensure that the overall mental health service staffing level is maintained and that funding for posts is preserved at the level of Budget 2011 in order to allow recruitment of staff and delivery of community-based and recovery-focussed mental health services.

Orla Barry

Director, Mental Health Reform

Dublin 2

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