I am pleased to have been appointed to this position. Mental health and, more importantly, promoting positive mental health are close to my heart, as they are to the hearts of many in this House. It is also an area in which there is so much more we could do to help each other, work with each other and try to remove the stigma that is still attached to mental health issues. I refer not just to politicians but also to society as a whole. While we have made great progress during the past decade, we still have a long way to go to remove the stigma attached to mental health issues.
There has been much discussion recently about the funding of mental health services, some of which has been constructive but some of which has not. I will outline a number of facts. The national service plan mental health budget for 2016 is €826 million. Since 2012 the budget has been increased by €115 million. This year there will be an increase of €41 million, or 5.2%, on the outturn for last year. The numbers of child and adolescent community mental health teams and acute inpatient beds have increased substantially, while waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, have decreased and initiatives are under way to reduce them further. We have to understand there is also a great deal of work to be done in these areas.
In broad terms, we have facilitated the move away from institutional to community care, providing service users with more accessible treatment in better environments. We have closed many of the older psychiatric hospital inpatient units, providing new, improved facilities such as The Phoenix Care Centre, the new acute unit in Cork University Hospital and those due to open shortly in Galway and Drogheda. Preliminary site work has also commenced on the new state-of-the-art national forensic hospital to replace the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. We have helped to foster a greater awareness of mental health promotion in society through campaigns such as Little Things, while the suicide prevention strategy, Connecting For Life, has helped to increase awareness of suicide in society. While much good work has taken place in recent years, I am under no illusion that more work and further effort are required. For example, we need to continue the development of counselling services across primary and secondary care services. We need more community mental health teams, together with improved 24/7 response and liaison services. Most important, we need to ensure no group, regardless of age, ethnicity, sexuality or circumstances, is left behind or overlooked. Changes initiated as a result of new funding allocated by the previous Government have paved the way for real and lasting change for service users. We need to build on that change.
The national mental health strategy, A Vision for Change, is ten years old this year. Within the next 100 days I will initiate an evidence-based expert review of progress in the implementation of this policy and the improvement of mental health services. The review will take account of international best practice in mental health services and inform how we will develop policy.
Perhaps the main challenge to the mental health service is presented by the recruitment and retention of staff. Many well trained, highly motivated individuals are taking up employment outside the public service, either in the private sector or abroad. I touched on this issue yesterday with a number of Senators. I am conscious of the difficulty in recruiting and retaining nurses in the mental health service. For that reason, I am happy to inform Senators that the HSE is reintroducing a one-year post-registration programme in psychiatric nursing for nurses who are registered in either the general, intellectual disability or children's divisions of the register maintained by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland. A total of 30 places have been made available on the programme which is due to commence in the autumn in association with UCD. While this is a positive move, there is a great deal of work to be done in the further recruitment of staff within the HSE, for which I intend to push.
We live in an evolving world. While we can communicate with people more quickly, in many ways, perhaps, we are becoming more isolated owing to the pace of our daily lives and the pressures we are under. Our pace of life is getting faster. This puts people under pressure and they are in need of assistance. The need to reform and update mental health policy and services is clear. We need to plan for this, but we also need to address changes which are happening now. Education is key and most important at an early stage. Mental health issues often manifest at a much younger age than we like to think or even discuss, but that is the reality today. The pressures young people face today compared to when any of us was in school are completely different. Every second of a young person’s life is online and while it is visible for everybody to see, it is also visible for everybody to criticise - what they look like, how they dress, who their friends are, who they hang out with, where they go to school and how they do in examinations. There is a different dimension to young people’s lives that was not there a few years ago and we need to start dealing with it.
In the next 100 days I will establish a youth mental health task force, on which I am actively working. It will consider how best to assist young people in developing resilience and coping skills to support their emotional well-being at an early stage and to build awareness of how to access high-quality effective services when they need them. It will include a number of non-political, non-governmental members with significant expertise in youth mental health services and be supported by a significant cross-departmental effort to establish a new, co-ordinated way of working across government to promote youth mental health and well-being. This will be a critical aspect of our work. The mental well-being of young people is not simply a health issue and should not relate specifically to the Department of Health. It is not simply an education issue either. It is an economic, social and community issue that requires the public, private and voluntary sectors and all of us to co-ordinate and pull together in order that our combined efforts will achieve more than the sum of their parts and that every young person will have the full support of the community in which he or she lives to reach his or her full potential.
I again refer to the marriage equality referendum last year. It was not mental health legislation, but it had a massively positive impact on the mental health of many people. We need to identify the everyday issues that affect young people’s well-being and, as a community and society, equip them with the tools they need to deal with them effectively.
I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to contribute. I am here to listen to what Members have to say. I will take on board what they say and work them with them into the future.