Deputies will already be aware of the ongoing efforts made by my Department to fill the vacancy left by the previous in-house military psychiatrist, who retired in May 2018. In this regard, a direct entrant competition for the position of military psychiatrist, which closed on 30th September 2018, yielded no applications.
To continue to provide an interim in-house service until such time as the military psychiatrist position could be filled, attempts were made to secure a locum psychiatrist but these also proved unsuccessful.
In order to explore every option to facilitate an in-house appointment, I gave approval for my Department to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian consultant psychiatrist on a temporary 24-month contract at pay rates equivalent to those available in the HSE. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) sanctioned the competition.
The Public Appointments Service is currently conducting a competition to fill the position. The closing date for the competition is 26 September 2019 and I am informed that there has been interest expressed in the vacancy.
Until this vacancy is filled, interim services are being provided through a combination of external public and private services. I wish to stress again that there is no delay in referring Defence Forces personnel requiring immediate psychiatric care or assessment. Patients presenting to Defence Forces Primary Carers (Medical Officers or contracted civilian GPs) with a requirement for urgent psychiatric assessment are referred to HSE Accident & Emergency Departments. Those requiring hospitalisation are admitted immediately.
Furthermore, in order to provide Defence Forces Primary Carers (Medical Officers or contracted civilian GPs) with the broadest range of options possible in dealing with the spectrum of cases that present to them, they have also been authorised to refer cases to local external private psychiatrists for outpatient treatment where deemed appropriate.
As I have outlined in the past, there is a nationwide shortage of trained psychiatrists, with recruitment issues in a number of sectors of the health service. The difficulty with recruitment for such a position is not unique to the Defence Forces.