Thursday 26th November 2020 – The Annual Delegate Conference of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) – which is taking place online – has been told that despite growing demand at all levels for mental health services that the percentage of the overall health budget for mental health has actually decreased by 1%.
The conference also heard that up to 200 extra nurses will be required for the full opening of the new National Forensic Mental Health Services in Portrane , in North County Dublin next year.
Commenting on the overall percentage reduction in the mental health budget PNA General Secretary, Peter Hughes told the Conference:
“This is outrageous and clearly highlights the lack of understanding of our politicians of the inadequacy of our current services or the extent of the growing demands for mental health services at every level.”
“It is incomprehensible and a retrograde step especially when it comes just four months after the launch of the latest ten-year Government strategy “Sharing the Vision”.
“And it comes despite Slaintecare recommending that 10% of the health budget should be allocated to mental health, which is still below international recommendations. The health budget is now €20billion including the additional €4billion increase for 2021. Of this mental health has a budget allocation of €1 billion which now means that the mental health budget has been reduced from just over 6% to 5%.”
Mr Hughes said that in the context of the mental health services budget and the transfer of the National Forensic Mental Health Services from its current location in Dundrum to Portrane the PNA will be insistent that all proceeds from the sale of the very valuable land in Dundrum is protected and ringfenced for investment in the wider mental health services.
The Impact of Covid -19
Mr Hughes told the conference that it could not have been more fitting that 2020 was The Year of the Nurse given the enormous challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has posed for the health services.
“Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to recognise and appreciate the expertise, commitment, and value of nursing in the health service. Much of the Covid-19 focus has been on the general services but make no mistake about it this virus has had an impact on all our members in the mental health, intellectual disability and ambulance services and how these services are delivered.”
He said that while research by Mental Health Commission in July had shown that the pandemic has been managed well overall by the mental health services with their quick response and adaption of services to manage the virus, it was clear that underinvestment in mental health facilities was exposed by the Covid crisis.
“This pandemic has highlighted to us all how the infrastructure, in a significant number of approved centres, are simply not suitable to manage situations like this due to the number of shared bedrooms. It confirms yet again that Government needs to urgently invest in a major capital programme to address this matter.”
Campaign for the right of Ambulance Service Personnel to be represented by PNA:
Mr Hughes told the Conference that the PNA campaign for the right of paramedics, advanced paramedics and emergency medical technicians to be represented by the union of their choice – PNA - continues.
“As with all frontline workers, our ambulance personnel members have brought their dedication and professionalism to a new level in response to the challenges of Covid-19. On a daily basis they are selflessly putting their own health and that of their families at risk in the interest of the wider community, yet they continue to be denied the fundamental right to be represented by the union of their choice.”
He said the experience of ambulance personnel members of PNA over the past eight months has strengthened the resolve to achieve this right.
“The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the public’s support and gratitude for all frontline workers and ambulance personnel are certainly to the forefront in the high regard they are held in by the public. It seems inconceivable after all that our front line services have been through, that our ambulance personnel will again have to stand in protest outside Leinster House in demand of their right to be represented by PNA – a recognised trade union with 50 years’ experience. “
“If we are again forced into protest action at the Dail we will be demanding that politicians explain to the Irish public why it is that 11 years after forming a branch within PNA ,these highly dedicated professionals are still denied the right to be represented by the union of their choice, not the choice of the employer.”
National Forensic Mental Health Services transfer to Portrane
Mr Hughes said the new National Forensic Mental Health Services in Portrane is due to be completed and handed over to the HSE next month and is by far the largest capital development of mental health services in the State.
The new service will comprise of a 170-bed campus which is over 70 beds more than the current service in Dundrum. Incorporated within is a 120-bed forensic hospital, 10 bed CAMHS unit, 10 bed mental health intellectual disability unit and a 30-bed intensive care rehabilitation unit (ICRU).
“Considering it will take an extra 200 nurses to staff the campus it is envisaged that the service will open on a phased basis. It is expected that the 120-bed forensic hospital will open towards the end of March/April 2021.”
“However, it is essential that the whole service is opened and fully staffed within a specific timeframe as the specialised CAMHS, Mental Health Intellectual Disability Unit and the Intensive Care Rehabilitation Units are non-existent throughout the country at present.”
Mr Hughes described recent newspaper coverage of the planned transfer of patients from Dundrum to the new Portrane service as disgraceful and outrageous.
“Despite all the positive work and efforts to remove the stigma of mental illness over the years, it is incredulous that such a headline could be printed in a national newspaper in this day and age. This type of shameful attitude towards mental illness must be eliminated from society and we have contacted the HSE to ensure that this matter is addressed.”
Sharing the Vision Mental Health Strategy
Mr Hughes said that while overall the PNA welcome the new 10-year Sharing the Vision mental health strategy and will work to ensure that it is not used as a cost saving mechanism , the initial indications on the implementation of the strategy are not positive.
“Sharing the Vision fails to allocate funding or specific resources to implement the recommendations and since its publication in June, once again, it appears we are in danger of again getting promises rather that firm commitment to mental health services reform.”
Media Contact : Derek Cunningham 086 2430535