‘Strong political leadership’ key to sharing new mental health vision

New mental health policy must be matched by action, campaigners say

A new ‘super Junior Minister’ is needed to implement the Government’s new 10-year ‘roadmap’ for mental health policy in Ireland, campaigners have said.

The call comes after policy document ‘Sharing the Vision — a Mental Health Policy for Everyone’ was published today (June 17) by Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister of State for Mental Health Jim Daly.

Signed off by the Cabinet two weeks ago, the Department of Health (DoH) said the strategy envisaged a person-centred mental health system and replaced ‘A Vision for Change’ which ended its 10-year-term in 2016.

Speaking at the launch at the DoH this morning, Minister Harris said ‘Sharing the Vision’ focused on several key areas, including promotion, prevention and early intervention, service access, coordination and continuity of care, social inclusion and accountability and continuous improvement.

“Importantly, ‘Sharing the Vision’ includes an implementation roadmap. It allocates ownership of recommendations to lead agencies and sets time-bound implementation targets against each recommendation’s actions. This will be key to its delivery,” he added.

“Its publication comes at a time when our world is rapidly changing, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is my sincere hope that this policy will play an essential role in shaping our responses to these challenges we face now, and those that are to come.”

Also speaking at the launch, Minister Daly said the new policy was developed to help agencies deal with the increase in demand on their services “in new and imaginative ways”.

“I am confident that this policy will change lives for the better,” he added.

Campaign group, Mental Health Reform (MHR), said it welcomed the publication of the document, stating that the new strategy could transform the country’s mental health system.

But MHR, which represents 75 organisations in the mental health sector, cautioned that delivering the long-awaited new policy would require financial backing and “strong political leadership”.

“Today’s publication opens a new chapter for Ireland’s mental health system,” MHR Chief Executive Fiona Coyle said.

“This policy sets out a progressive framework for delivering better mental health services. In particular, we welcome the focus on outcomes and the much greater emphasis on needs of the population and the people who use services. The implementation plan is important to measure what matters the most — the improvement of people’s lives.”

Coyle, however, said it was concerning that no commitments have been made to funding the policy.

“Delivering this policy will require strong political leadership, consistent funding and a whole of Government approach, so that issues do not fall between the cracks,” she added.

“Mental Health Reform believes that a Super Junior Minster for Mental Health is needed in the next Government to take political responsibility for the implementation of the policy and deliver a modern and progressive mental health system.”

The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) also welcomed the policy, with a spokesman stating that the Covid-19 crisis has had a major impact on mental health services.

“As the title states, mental health services should be accessible for everyone — just like general practice,” he said.

Dr Brian Osborne

Noting that GPs provide care for more than 90 per cent of patients with mental health conditions, Dr Brian Osborne, ICGP’s Assistant Medical Director, said GPs needed time to deal with patients with mental health conditions.

“There is a need for general practice to be supported in caring for these patients with greater access to talk therapies including addiction services, improved integration with primary and secondary care and upscaling of digital technologies in mental health services in particular,” he added.

“The physical healthcare of patients with mental health conditions including severe and enduring mental illness should be led by their GP. A properly funded, integrated, structured programme of care for these patients needs to be implemented as a matter of urgency.”

Dr Osborne also said the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic would have a far-reaching impact on mental health at an individual and societal level.

“Already grief, isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression are affecting many lives.

Improvements in how society and the health system deal with mental health are long ovecovidcordue,” he added.

peter.doyle@imt.ie

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