Government must prioritise mental health for 2014

Dail Eireann – 13th March 2014

Deputy Dan Neville: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate.  I will focus, in the time available to me, on the area of health, which is one of the key issues of concern to people.  I intend to deal specifically with mental health issues.  The Government has a policy of developing the mental health services, an undertaking it gave in the programme for Government.  While progress has been made, there is concern regarding the level and pace of that progress.  The funding has been made available, but the pace of change within the Health Service Executive is not what we would like.  What is needed at this point is a full report to the Oireachtas regarding the HSE’s expenditure of moneys allocated since the beginning of the Government’s term for developing mental health services.

We are coming from a very low base in this regard, with only 5.3% of the total health budget allocated to mental health services.  In England and Wales, that figure is 13%, while in Scotland it is 18%.  The Scottish authorities have made considerable progress in the development of mental health services, with a reduction in the rate of suicide of 17% in recent years.  This has been achieved by the introduction of new policies and strategies that were made possible because 18% of the health budget is ring-fenced for mental health.  The HSE, through its National Office for Suicide Prevention, has a policy of developing suicide prevention programmes, suicide research and support for the bereaved.  The budget for that office has doubled under this Government, from €4 million to €8.9 million.  The Road Safety Authority does a very good job and deserves whatever funding it gets, because too many people are still dying on our roads.  However, when one compares its budget of €41 million with the €8.9 million allocated to the National Office for Suicide Prevention, one sees how far we still have to go.

Towards the end of this year, Reach Out, a programme that was initiated ten years ago to progress the development of suicide programmes, will come to an end.  While preparations are being made for a follow-up programme, I have concerns in this regard.  It took three years to develop Reach Out, during which time the then Government, whenever it was requested to respond to needs in this area, was able to reply that it was waiting for the expert group to report.

The whole process was stagnant for three years while the report was being produced.  The National Office for Suicide Prevention is conscious of what took place on the last occasion and that those who want to develop suicide prevention programmes are concerned it could recur.

Approximately four years ago the State and the HSE introduced a programme to reduce stigma entitled, See Change, on which we would like a report because the funding available is inadequate.  A key step we must take to improve mental health services and reduce the incidence of suicide is to ensure people can gain access to services early.  One of the key obstacles is stigma and denial in regard thereto.  I would like to see these objectives acted on by the Government through the programme for Government.