Rural Dail Debate

Dail Rural Areas Private Members, Motion – 14th December 2011

Deputy Dan Neville

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I want to speak about an area of concern in rural areas that is addressed in the budget, namely, the levels of depression, loneliness, isolation, attempted suicide and suicide, as raised in the House over the past year. These rates have increased over the years and, in recent years there has been a dramatic increase. Figures show there is a higher rate of suicide and depression in rural areas.

Following the promise in the programme for Government, the budget resulted in the allocation of an extra €35 million for the development of mental health services, as outlined in A Vision for Change. The €35 million is ring-fenced for this purpose. When former Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney allocated money to the HSE for this purpose, it was hived off for other purposes. In 2009, she informed me she would allocate no money in this area because the HSE would not use it for its stated purpose, that is, the development of mental health services. We must, therefore, ensure there is a detailed plan for the spending of the €35 million.

I am asking the government that just €4 million of the €35 million, or 11.5%, be allocated for suicide prevention. Six hundred people died by suicide last year. This is an enormous number. It is not unreasonable to ask that just €4 million of the €35 million be allocated to assist the National Office for Suicide Prevention in its work to prevent and research suicide and assist those who are bereaved thereby. To that purpose, it is important that somebody has executive responsibility and that there is a directorate of mental health services to ensure we have the necessary change management capacity and skills to drive the implementation of A Vision for Change. We are not asking for extra people as there are very good people already. There is a very good person in the HSE who is capable of doing what I suggest very efficiently. I ask that he have executive responsibility to do so.

In the period 2009 to 2010, the mental health service lost 1,000 posts.

It lost a disproportionate number of health service staff. Despite exemptions to the recruitment moratorium for certain grades of staff, it appears that the number of new staff is falling far short of the losses. Only 54 nurses have been recruited to the psychiatric service even though 600 retired in 2009. I back the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on her proposal to re-examine the moratorium on psychiatric nursing appointments.