Thursday, 28 February 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Mental Health Policy
For more than one year, the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, of which I was a member, carried out a great deal of work investigating the services in place our country, identifying problems and potential solutions and holding the HSE, Department of Health and Government to account. The committee was dissolved in October 2018, following the publication of its final report. In truth, the committee was only at the beginning of its work. I have no doubt that the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, shares my belief that the committee was valuable and shone a light on many important mental health issues that had previously been ignored or covered to an insufficient degree. It is essential that this and other work continues and expands over the coming months and years to facilitate the scrutiny of policy, develop new ideas and encourage debate and accountability.
I ask the Minister of State what is her stance on the re-establishment of the committee. The committee called consistently for a strong and robust implementation plan and its re-establishment would be a useful component of that work. In the context of the continuing crisis in mental health services, the failure to implement A Vision for Change and plans to introduce new legislation to overhaul the Mental Health Act 2001, this committee's role could not be more important. I await the Minister of State's response and hope I will hear positive news.
On behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, I thank Senator Devine for raising this issue. As the Senator is aware, the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care was established in July 2017 with the aim of achieving cross-party agreement on the implementation of a single long-term vision for mental healthcare and the direction of mental health policy in Ireland. The main aim of the joint committee was to examine the delivery of mental health services with a focus on finding, recruitment challenges and increased access to services. The joint committee produced two interim reports dated December 2017 and April 2018, respectively, and a final report was launched in October 2018.
Under its terms of reference, the joint committee recognised that the Department of Health was simultaneously conducting a review of the national mental health policy, A Vision for Change. The joint committee invited various individuals and professionals with expertise in mental health to attend monthly meetings and provide input from their own perspectives on how best to reduce waiting times, increase capacity and provide additional mental healthcare services nationally. Upon completion of its final report, the work of the Oireachtas committee came to an end. While the committee requested in its final report that it be established on a permanent footing, the terms of reference provided that it would make its final report to both Houses of the Oireachtas by 31 October 2018 and "thereupon stand dissolved". Consequently, there are no plans to establish the committee on a permanent basis.
Among the main objectives of the committee was to assist with the completion of the implementation of A Vision for Change to create a more integrated mental healthcare service of the highest quality. As such, the committee's work was firmly affiliated with the refresh policy of A Vision for Change, which is now nearing completion. From an early stage in the refresh process, there was an emphasis on the importance of consultation. Over 1,000 individuals, including service users, health professionals and community groups, provided input into that consultation process. A major review was undertaken to include recent policy recommendations contained in interdepartmental reports. As part of the review, all submissions to the joint committee were coded with relevant actions embedded in the refresh process under A Vision for Change. It is anticipated that the final report on the refresh process under A Vision for Change will be completed by end of the first quarter of 2019. The report will be informed by the work of the joint committee and the key concerns presented to the committee by various stakeholders during its consultation process will be taken on board.In line with the recommendations of the committee, the refreshed A Vision for Change will support better access, personalised choice and greater service user involvement, while those charged with its implementation will be fully accountable to the Oireachtas.
That response is very disappointing. There are no plans to establish the committee on a permanent basis. This is contrary to statements made by Ministers while the committee was doing its work. We kept the focus on the 80 or so children who were still admitted to acute mental hospitals and the shambolic finances of the HSE when it came to the provision of mental health services in that it did not know where the money went or how it was spent. This goes against the tide.
In the implementation of A Vision for Change I was trying to work it out. It was launched in 2006 and to be complete in 2016, but that has not happened. Some 75% of it has not been implemented. Suggesting mental health services will be safe and secure by implementing the new improved version of A Vision for Change does not give me any succour or comfort. The Members of this and the other House will have to continue the fight to have the committee re-established because the issue of mental health has never been so important for the country. It is a crying shame to take the focus off it.
I refer back to the opening statement which clearly outlines that the key concerns presented to the committee by various stakeholders during the consultation process will be taken on board. On behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, I thank the members of the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Services for their work. Many people's voices were heard and what they said will be taken into account in the new revised version of A Vision for Change. I do not have anything to add about the committee being put back in place. The structures were clearly set out at the beginning and it was agreed that the committee would be dissolved in 2018, which is what happened. I am sure the Senator and others will pursue the matter through other avenues in the long term.