Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Health Services Staff Recruitment
72. To ask the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to issues in the recruitment of counselling psychologists by the Health Service Executive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36797/14]
The HSE service plan deliberately provides for a time delay in the recruitment of critically important mental health professionals. The object of this question is to establish from the Minister of State what her plans are to accelerate the recruitment of professionals within that sector. One can argue that this is the consequence of the breach of the programme for Government last year when funding that was to be ring-fenced was cut in a very crass manner. It has resulted in the HSE cynically designing a situation where it would leave the impression that it was recruiting in this calendar year when it intended to recruit them in December.
I will answer the question as submitted.
Psychologists employed by the health service play an integral role in the delivery of a wide range of psychological services. These include the following: working with children and their families who present with developmental, emotional or behavioural difficulties and others who have intellectual and physical disabilities; working with adolescents with a wide range of difficulties from adjustment problems to serious mental health issues; and working with adults who present with mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and mental disorders.
Psychologists deliver services in a number of ways: as part of a multidisciplinary team of health professionals, as part of a network of health professionals, or as sole health professionals providing services to individual clients. They deliver their services in a range of settings, including community-based health centres, residential centres, nursing homes and hospitals.
The HSE employs professionally trained psychologists, including counselling psychologists, clinical psychologists and educational psychologists, in a range of roles across the health service. Counselling psychologists are largely employed in primary care and national counselling services. Under section 22 of the Health Act 2004, the HSE has the authority to appoint persons to be its employees and may determine their duties. This includes the appointment of persons to posts within the psychology service. With regard to the recruitment of psychologists, in the context of significant organisational change and realignment, it is the executive's intention to review the selection criteria for posts within the psychology service. The review will commence in November, and as part of this process the views of stakeholders will be invited and consideration will be given to developments within the profession. This review is timely in order to ensure that the recruitment of professionally trained psychologists continues to meet the needs of our evolving health services. I welcome the review and look forward to receiving the results of the report once it is completed.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. As she is aware, up to 15,000 children are languishing on waiting lists for early intervention teams. The much-lauded concept of the early intervention team lacks the sort of supports that are required to ensure that the multidisciplinary expertise is there across the disciplines described by the Minister of State in order to give children at an early stage of life an opportunity to develop and have educational opportunities in the same way as any other child.
What plan does the Minister of State have to accelerate the specific recruitment of the psychologists? I am concerned that the advice the Minister of State has received from the national association representing that profession is being ignored in her approach. It is important that we both agree that the critical thing is to address the waiting lists. We have demonstrated in this Chamber that up to 15,000 children have been waiting over two years for assessment, which is unacceptable.
I agree with the Deputy and share his concerns about this area. I am having another meeting this evening with the officials who operate the national mental health services within the HSE. I agree with the Deputy that there is a difficulty. I have been doing a bit of research lately that may not be joy to the ears of those working within the service, but it is definite that some services are working extraordinarily well while other services simply are not. We must remember at all times that this is about the child. We are recruiting as best we can.
I am sure the Deputy also knows that there is a difficulty with recruitment processes. The new review will help that, but we must certainly take a serious look at whom we recruit, how we recruit them and the shortage that exists. The shortage deeply concerns me, but even more worrying is the fact that children are waiting longer than necessary for assessments.
The HSE service plan was deliberately designed to prevent recruitment. Last year there was a commitment to provide for €35 million in ring-fenced funding for mental health services. That broken promise has resulted in the Minister of State designing a time delay which deliberately prevents the recruitment of staff that would address the waiting lists we have described. In the forthcoming budget, does the Minister of State intend to address that situation and restore the moneys that were cut in last year's provision that was ring-fenced in the programme for Government - the figure of €35 million? Is it her intention to restore that €15 million, as was the rhetoric at the time, on top of the €35 million specifically designed for the recruitment of specialist staff?
I will not take that long. My clear intention is to ensure we have a plan relating to recruitment and the upcoming budget. The Minister and I have been involved in those negotiations for the past number of weeks.
Part of that planning will involve today's meeting. It is all about planning and ensuring we have timeframes. There was a timeframe last year, no matter what other opinions may be. It is my job to ensure the timetable is adhered to and that when we get the additional money this year, which I assume we will because I have no reason to believe otherwise, we will have a plan to use it. Things change and one should be flexible enough to ensure that when changes occur one is prepared for them in order to get the best possible results for the people one is charged with representing.