'Question mark' over funding due to lack of Executive, says Mental Health Champion

Professor Siobhan O'Neill, speaking to the UTV Podcast, said without a sitting Executive she would have to appeal to the civil servant at the head of the Department of Health. She also raised concerns around the 10-year mental health strategy which needs £1.2billion in funding.

"That's a very daunting position to be in but we're not actually in that position and I'm always very hopeful that we can resolve the issues that are difficult right now and that we can get our Executive back and that we can get that budget signed off," said Siobhan.

She added: "It is really important that we have political stability and I'm also concerned about the impact of political instability on everyone's mental health. The lack of leadership is a very destabilising situation for any community, for any population."

Asked where our mental health services are at right now, Professor O'Neill said many actions outlined in the plan have been progressed in the past two years.

These include work behind the creation of a single regional mental health service, the regional crisis intervention service, perinatal mental health services and the implementation of an emotional health and wellbeing framework in schools.

But while there have been positive developments, Siobhan said there has been a surge in the number of people asking for mental health support.

"We need every single one of those ten years in order to achieve what we want to in terms of the regional mental health service but I know the Department of Health have been investing more money into on the ground services as well to try and keep up with the demand but as I say, we need that systems reform in order to do this properly," said Prof. O'Neill.

This week, mental health campaigners called for an 'overhaul' of services here, as waiting list times soar.

It comes as new data shows there have been significant breaches of nine-week waiting times for adult mental health support across Northern Ireland.

In the Belfast Trust area between January and September last year, there was a 42% rise in the number of times the nine-week target was breached.

There was a 51% increase in the Southern Trust and a staggering 94% jump in the South Eastern Trust.

Prof. O'Neill said those figures aren't surprising but they are also "not acceptable".

However, she argued that the 10-year mental health strategy is the overhaul of services campaigners are calling for.

"The plan for the regional mental health service will see the change that we need... but I'm very keen to hear the critiques of that, we are still working to get all the aspects of that right, so I'd be keen to engage with that group again just to understand what it is about the current plan for mental health services that they disagree with," said Prof. O'Neill.

To hear podcast conversation with Professor O'Neill's in full on the state of mental health services and her hopes for the future, you can listen here: https://www.itv.com/news/utv/2023-02-03/how-political-impasse-is-impacting-mental-health