Seanad debates

Monday, 26 April 2021

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:30 am

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I want to highlight what I believe is a very important issue that is close to my heart. It is around adequate access to eating disorder treatment in Ireland. Over the past few months I have been aware of this issue both in my professional work as a therapist and as a Senator. I recently heard a very stressful radio programme about a young girl who rang in and talked about not having anywhere to go and who was literally on death's door. Shockingly, men and women struggling with eating disorders still have to leave the country and, in most cases, must travel to the UK to find adequate specialist mental health services that will ensure their recovery. Our mental health services have continuously failed those with eating disorders for decades and the problem is perpetuated by the lack of ring-fenced national funding.

I commend Deputy Cairns on raising awareness of this issue in the Dáil last week. It is shocking that in 2020, no funding was allocated under the national eating disorder plan and in 2019 none of the €1.6 million allocated was spent. It is not even a huge amount of money. I know of three family members who have children of 13, 14 and 15 with severe eating disorders. I know one family whose daughter is currently being drip fed in a hospital. She is on death's door yet that €1.6 million was not spent. It is shocking.

I will continue to raise this issue as the Chairman of the mental health committee. I am passionate about it. It is an area that deserves more conversation due to the stigmatised nature of the illness. We need to prioritise ease of access to adequate care for people struggling with eating disorders. The lack of conversation around eating disorders results in many people choosing to live with an eating disorder for far longer than they should. We have taken brave and bold steps in recent years to tackle the destigmatisation of eating disorders but it is our duty now to ensure access to health for those brave enough to seek it.

I am shocked that there has been a pause in the implementation of the nationally planned eating disorder services due to operational rather than clinical reasons. As our colleague, Deputy Cairns, stated in the Dáil last week, we cannot allow erratic reasons to stand in the way of access to mental healthcare for those who are more vulnerable. I would love the Minister to come into the House and explain to us what is going on around that area.

I want to welcome the groundbreaking recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality. They are brilliant and it is important that the Government moves quickly on the recommendations. Together with others I, too, call for a debate on the Citizens' Assembly recommendations.


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