Thursday, 15 October 2020
Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)
On the surface, the budget allocation for mental health is to be welcomed but, as they say, the devil is in the details. I appreciate the additional details the Minister of State announced in the speech today. I will examine them when I get a chance. Of the €50 million she tweeted about on Tuesday, €12 million is for the continuation and management of existing services. My understanding is that the HSE may need much more for the continuation of these services.
I have a couple of questions, although I acknowledge the Minister of State cannot answer them now. If she does, it will be fantastic. Is the €12 million new money or is it money that was previously allocated for mental health services? Can the Minister of State guarantee that if the €12 million is not sufficient to continue to resource existing mental health services, she will not dip into the remaining €38 million set aside for the new initiatives she mentioned, such as funding the implementation of Sharing the Vision and providing resources for a Covid response? If this happens, it will have been a Department decision and not a HSE decision. The buck stops with the Minister of State.
I welcome the announcement of the setting up of the independent monitoring committee to oversee the implementation of Sharing the Vision. This is paramount if Sharing the Vision is to be successful. The committee needs to be able to engage in budgetary oversight and report, even on a quarterly basis, on the progress or lack thereof. It needs to ensure that the €20 million set aside to implement the first aspect of Sharing the Vision achieves exactly that and does not go elsewhere to shore up the systemic shortfalls in mental health services. This needs to happen now. The short-term goals in Sharing the Vision are the foundation blocks on which the mental health policy is built. If the foundations are weak, the whole policy could collapse.
This budget will have a genuine impact if waiting lists are reduced. I heard the Minister of State mention a couple of measures in this regard. Years of underinvestment have resulted in 10,000 people waiting for primary care psychological treatment. That number needs to be reduced.
Could the Minister of State guarantee that the mental health budget will be released to services by the Department of Health in January 2021 and not released in a piecemeal way throughout the year? The moneys should be available at the start of the year and services should not be playing catch-up in seeking to spend them. For example, €12 million was withheld from the HSE by the Department of Health in 2019.
If Sinn Féin were in government, it would have recognised that mental health issues do not just arise between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., nor do they take the weekend off. We would have increased investment in 24-7 crisis mental health services. Our alternative budget would introduce free counselling on GP referral. This would break down barriers that exist in accessing health services when and where needed.
Mental health issues do not take a break during a pandemic. The new restrictions imposed last night have added to anxiety and stress, particularly among those who live alone and who are now not permitted to visit other households or to allow members of other households to visit them. This measure could lead to isolation and worsen the impact on people's mental health. In the North of this island, the authorities have introduced a support bubble, which is a close support network involving a household with one adult in the home, known as a single-adult household, and other households of any size. Isolation does not just affect older people; it also affects single parents, other single people, parents with children, and adult children with disabilities, among others. Will the Government consider a measure similar to the support bubble measure in this part of the island over the coming weeks? It would help to meet the objective of an all-island approach to this pandemic.