The report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals for the year ending 31 December 2002 was published on 10 September 2003. I welcome the publication of this report and acknowledge the important role that the Inspector plays in providing an accurate and detailed account of services in the mental health sector throughout the country.
In his 2002 report, the Inspector of Mental Hospitals notes the continuing decline in the number of patients in psychiatric in-patient facilities, from 4,256 at the end of 2001 to 3,966 at the end of 2002. Approximately 11%, 2,723, of all admissions to psychiatric hospitals and units in 2002 were involuntary admissions. Ireland has a significantly higher rate of involuntary admission than other European countries. However, it is anticipated that the full implementation of the Mental Health Act 2001 with its more stringent procedures for involuntary detention, will significantly reduce the number of involuntary admissions, bringing practice in this country more into line with the rest of Europe.
In his report, the inspector refers to the ongoing replacement of old institutional mental hospitals with acute psychiatric units attached to general hospitals. He expresses disappointment at the failure of the newly constructed psychiatric units at Portlaoise General Hospital and Castlebar Regional Hospital to open as planned in 2002. However, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the unit in Castlebar opened in December 2003 and that the Portlaoise unit is expected to open shortly. The opening of three more units is pending.
The inspector welcomed the considerable reinforcement of various sub-specialties within psychiatry, with the appointment of additional consultants in later-life psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, rehabilitation psychiatry and liaison psychiatry in general hospitals and he is complimentary of the developments in mental health care in all health boards and highlights the many improvements which have taken place in the care of the mentally ill over recent years.
The inspector has welcomed the establishment of the Mental Health Commission in April 2002. The commission will be the main vehicle for the implementation of the provisions of the new Mental Health Act 2001 and its independent status will be crucial in driving the agenda for change and modernisation in the mental health services in the coming years.
An expert group on mental health policy, which I established in 2003 is preparing a new national policy framework for the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document, Planning for the Future. As part of the process the expert group is now examining written submissions on the matter.
I assure the Deputy that, while I am pleased with the scale of the progress being made in many of the services, I accept that much remains to be done in providing a service which will enhance the quality of life of those suffering from mental illness. It is my intention to facilitate the service providers in bringing about the improvements and developments identified by the inspector as quickly as possible and I am fully committed to ensuring that the recommendations made in the inspector's report for 2002 are followed up as soon as possible.