Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Calls for investment in mental health and alcohol harm reduction in Budget 2024

Campaigners call for spending on mental health to rise to 10 per cent of health budget

At least €155 million is needed in the upcoming Budget to deliver urgent reforms in the mental health system, a campaigning group representing 80 mental health bodies in Ireland has said.

Mental Health Reform has called on the Government to increase spending on mental health from 5.1 to 10 per cent of the total health budget.

The call comes after the crisis in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) was exposed in reports by the Mental Health Commission published last month, which showed that there are 4,450 patients on waiting lists for the service.

Fiona Coyle, CEO, Mental Health Reform

“Given the growing crisis in youth mental health, funding for the sector has never been more crucial,” Fiona Coyle, CEO, Mental Health Reform said. “Since 2019 waiting lists for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services have almost doubled. There has also been an increase in the number of children and young people with mental health difficulties attending emergency departments.”

The group said that, of the €115 million, €30 million would be spent on maintaining existing levels of service while €85 million would go towards the development of new mental health services to address unmet need.

The call comes as the HSE this week launched an expansion of CAMHS services nationally, with five hubs to support CAMHS Teams in delivering enhanced responses to children, young people and their families/carers in times of acute mental health crisis.

Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Mary Butler, said: “Support from these hubs is designed to be over a short period of time, as they provide targeted and intensive intervention and support with flexibility to respond to different young people’s or parent/carer needs. We have worked hard to make sure this service will be child and young person centred, recovery focused and trauma informed.

“This is a welcome and significant new service development to advance in particular Recommendation 35 of our Sharing the Vision policy to develop a comprehensive specialist mental health out-of-hours response for children and adolescents in all geographical areas.”

Meanwhile Alcohol Action Ireland is looking for the Government to address more urgently the nearly 1,500 deaths caused by alcohol every year in Ireland.

In its pre-Budget submission, the body makes a number of recommendations to offset the harm caused by the drug, including increased funding for services for all impacted by alcohol harm, the development of a ‘polluter pays’ model for alcohol taxation, and the establishment of an Office for Alcohol Harm Reduction – at an estimated cost of €1.5 million annually.

“The scale of the societal problem around alcohol is such that it now needs a dedicated resource to drive change,” CEO of AAI Dr Sheila Gilheany said of the recommended Office for Alcohol Harm Reduction.

“In Ireland, alcohol issues are currently spread across a number of government bodies. This spread of resources, and the lack of a dedicated staffing complement within one office dilutes progress for a robust strategic response to reducing Ireland’s alcohol harm burden, now and into the future. It also gives space for vested interests to exploit and to stymie a coherent response. (Our italics)

“There is much to be learned from the Road Safety Authority and its focussed approach to reducing deaths on Irish roads. While not perfect, at least it is clear who is taking the lead in this area. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for alcohol harm reduction.”

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