Mental Health Reform have criticised the Government as it has emerged that they plan to invest just €15 million into mental health services, as opposed to the Budget-day announcement of €35 million.
During last week’s budget, Minister for Health Simon Harris indicated that he would allocate €35 million extra to the mental health budget for 2017, to alleviate the crisis in the sector.
However, news of the reduction in the mental health budget came to light in the Dáil this week, in a question raised by Fianna Fáil’s James Browne to Minister of State Helen McEntee.
Minister McEntee confirmed that just €15 million would be set aside for 2017.
Speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday, she said she “was clear on Budget Day that the funding would be ‘initiated’ in 2017, but not all would be spent because of the time lag in taking on staff and preparations for the development of new services.”
Mental Health reform expressed their “dismay” at the Government’s rapid reversal of its Budget commitment to invest €35 million in 2017 for improvements in the Irish mental health services.
Director of Mental Health Reform, Shari McDaid, spoke of her shock at the news given the overstretched and under-resourced state of Ireland’s mental health system.
“This would represent only a 1.8 per cent increase in funding for mental health compared to the 2016 budget, much less than the 7.4 per cent increase in revenue spending for the health budget as a whole.
“Mental health has not been shown parity of esteem, much less the priority it needs by this Government,” she said.
Mental Health Reform said that staffing levels in child and adolescent mental health services are 48 per cent below recommended levels. Furthermore, they added that the mental health services staffing is 21 per cent lower than recommended.
As the country is recovering from the economic crisis, they stressed that mental health services have not recovered from the crash and are still almost 1,000 staff below the level in 2008.
“More and more people of all ages are seeking support to recover from a mental health difficulty; more than 2,000 children and adolescents were waiting for a first appointment for mental health services in July of which 10 per cent or 200 were waiting more than 12 months.
“Clearly more resources are needed at the coal face and a 1.8 per cent increase is wholly inadequate to respond to this need,” McDaid said.
Fianna Fáil’s James Browne hit out at the U-turn of the promised €35 million.
“Significant work is needed to bring our mental health services up to standard. This cannot be achieved without adequate funding,” he said.
“Currently the Government is planning to increase mental health funding by a measly 1.6% in 2017, as opposed to a 7.4% funding increase across the health sector. This clearly shows that mental health services simply are not a priority for Fine Gael.”
It was revealed earlier this month that former Minister for Health Leo Varadkar overstated the previous Government’s mental health spending by €125 million, in a statement issued on budget-day last year.
The budget allocated for mental health in 2014 was €791 million, €45 million short of the claimed increase of €125 million.
Prior to Budget 2017, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Mental Health Reform made a joint plea to the Government and Fianna Fáil to clarify their claim, made earlier in the year, to provide €37.5 million in the budget for mental health services. However, that plea was not met.
The USI and Mental Health Reform staged a demonstration attended by hundreds of university students last April against €12 million cuts to the mental health sector.
Cian Power, USI VP for Welfare, told The College View that they will be working alongside organisations like Mental Health Reform and “working with key stakeholders to see that the money promised will be put back into mental health and the youth mental health area”.
“Ourselves in USI would ask the Government to commit to the promise of the budget 2017, and to use the €35m for mental health resources and services.
“We are working on basically how to get a campaign on it and we will continue to campaign for an increase in mental health funding,” Power said.
DCU Students’ Union VP for Welfare, Cody Byrne, told The College View that it would be “stupid” to think that students do not utilise services outside of college.
“In a way, they kind of have to because the services they provide in DCU are really quite stretched to be honest. This is absolutely affect DCU students,” he said.
In relation to talks of another USI hosted protest, Byrne said: “There was a demonstration outside the Dáil last year but I have every intention of making it bigger and with the 700 plus students that went to the protest last Wednesday, it’s not going to be difficult to find more students that are going to be interested in this.
“I am one hundred per cent ready for anything that the DCU students need us to do and I’m so down to get out there again,” he concluded.
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