In a meeting with the Secretary of State for NI, the Rt Honourable Chris Heaton-Harris MP, to discuss challenges to mental health in NI, the Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill stressed the need to secure full funding for the Mental Health Strategy.
The Mental Health Strategy is in Year Two of implementation, but there are concerns that only a fraction of the £24.38 million needed to deliver this year’s actions may be available.
Whilst the funding for the Mental Health Strategy was included in a draft 3-year budget, this budget was not approved before the Executive dissolved, and the Department of Health has stated they cannot deliver the Strategy within their existing budget.
At the meeting Professor O’Neill outlined to the Secretary of State the importance of continued implementation of the Strategy to address the high levels of mental health difficulties in the NI population. Without full funding, some actions within the Strategy may not develop as planned.
Speaking after the meeting, Professor O’Neill said:
“Poor mental health costs Northern Ireland £3.4 billion annually. A reduced implementation cannot achieve the necessary reform needed to improve mental health services. In real terms, people in NI will wait longer, or never receive the treatments and support they urgently need.
There has been progress on many key actions from the Strategy, including the plans for a Regional Mental Health Service and Regional Crisis Service, the Review of Addiction Services and the development of the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Services. However, we cannot allow the implementation to slow. Workforce is a significant difficulty across mental health services, and it is a problem I consistently hear about when I visit services on the ground. There’s really difficulty in recruiting qualified clinicians and gaps within the services. Service users tell me that they still have difficulties accessing their key workers, and a lack of continuity means that people still need to repeat painful stories to different services without ever getting treatment that is beneficial. The Workforce Plan, included in the Mental Health Strategy is under development. It needs to be finalised and training places need to be increased urgently. These challenges again highlight the importance of all parts of the Strategy.
Many people are working to expand services to save lives and stem the flow of distressed individuals into a pressurized system. This will not be enough. We need funding allocated for the full implementation of the Mental Health Strategy for the transformation that is necessary, to reduce the suffering and create a better Northern Ireland for everyone.
I am thankful to the Secretary of State for meeting with me, I understand that funding is a difficult issue across many areas currently, but I am hopeful that, following our meeting, that the Secretary of State understands how vital the full implementation of this Strategy is, to improving the lives of so many across Northern Ireland and to securing a more prosperous future.”