Seanad debates

Thursday, 1 March 2012

1:00 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State back to the Seanad to take the first matter.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. I wish to raise an issue on behalf of the Irish Institute of Naturopathic Medicine, which is located in Colliga House in County Wicklow. This is a European award winning centre that provides a range of services and specialises in the area of suicide prevention in particular. We all know the importance of that area, given the high levels of suicide, especially among young people, in this country.

The institute was informed in 2006 by the HSE that approval had been received from the strategic policy and reform implementation unit for the provision of €25,000 in funding, with funding of €50,000 agreed for 2007. The letter stated that this national funding would support the work of the institute, was intended to cover set-up costs, and would be made through the local health manager who would link with the institute on behalf of the HSE nationally. The letter also stated that formal allocation would be issued soon, and that the person from the HSE named in the letter would be in a position to put in place a service level agreement for the national funding at that stage. Unfortunately, this never happened and I would like to know why not. I also request, even at this late stage, that a service level agreement be put in place with the institute for its suicide prevention centre.

In 2011, the unit in County Wicklow intervened with 2,000 individuals. It provides an early intervention service for individuals in the areas of suicide prevention, self harm, violence, addiction, mental health issues, domestic violence and autism in children. The IINM provides outreach suicide prevention programmes to deprived and marginalised members of the community in Ireland. In 2010, it was the overall winner of the ICNM European award for integrated medicine for suicide prevention. Its aim is to meet the objectives of the Government's mental health policy for best outcomes for all of our citizens, as well as the reduction in the rate of death from suicide, hospitalisation, violence and dependency on welfare. The focus of the programme is on intervention for prevention and treatment of self-aggressive disorders. All referrals are done through a GP or a psychiatrist.

As I mentioned earlier, the institute was approved for funding by the strategic policy and reform implementation unit of the HSE. I ask that it be given State support to carry on the excellent work that it has been doing to date. I have had very strong representations from many people who have a deep interest in suicide prevention in particular. From what I have been told, the method of treatment provided by the institute is highly effective and reputable, and I am very anxious that it be considered for State assistance to carry on its very important work, especially with the significant number of people who have had suicidal tendencies or who have self harmed in the past. I ask the Minister of State to have a look at this, and I also hope to meet the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health services, Deputy Lynch, on this issue in the near future.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I am taking this Adjournment debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, who has responsibility in this area. I thank Senator Mullins for raising this issue today.

The Irish Institute of Naturopathic Medicine treatment programme provides support and holistic based therapies in addiction, autism, mental health issues and so on. Funding was provided to the institute in 2005 and again in 2007 to support its work. These payments were once-off supports and no arrangement was entered into by the HSE to support the institute on an ongoing basis. Since then, the HSE has supported some individuals who wished to access services provided by the institute. However, it is clear that these supports were of a limited nature and specific to the individuals concerned. Given the budgetary restrictions in more recent years, it is no longer possible for the HSE to offer financial support to individuals who may wish to access services at the institute. The institute provides a range of alternative and complementary therapies. These therapies are not endorsed by the HSE, and the executive does not refer clients to the institute for treatment. For that reason, there is no basis for the HSE to enter into a service level agreement with the institute.

In these extremely difficult financial times, it is necessary for the HSE mental health services across all regions to continually review the provision of services in an effort to maximise the balance of service access within the available resources. I assure the House that the Government is committed to the development of our mental health and suicide prevention services. This commitment was clearly shown in budget 2012, which provided for a special allocation of €35 million for mental health services in line with commitments in the programme for Government. Funding from this special allocation will be used primarily to strengthen the community mental health teams in both adult and children's mental health services. Some of the funding will also be used to advance activities in the area of suicide prevention and response to self-harm presentations, and to initiate the provision of psychological and counselling services in primary care.

It is intended that the additional resources will be rolled out in conjunction with a scheme of appropriate clinical care programmes which are currently being developed. Three areas in particular will be prioritised in 2012: eating disorders, early intervention in psychosis, and suicide prevention. A fundamental principle of early intervention for any health condition is that identification, diagnosis and treatment should occur as early as possible to maximise the likelihood that interventions will successfully minimise the burden of suffering. By strengthening our community mental health teams and enhancing the capacity of primary care to deal with people with mental health issues, I hope we will go a long way towards achieving that goal. I thank the Senator for raising the matter.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for her response. I welcome the Government's additional commitment to mental health services, but I am disappointed with the response I have received. The alternative therapies that are available are worthy of consideration for funding. I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, my desire for a meeting with her and with a representative from the institute at an early date.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I will be happy to convey that request to the Minister of State.