Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Warning over NI mental health service 'cuts'

Michael McGimpsey (left) with Dr Philip McGarry (right) and Dr Frank Holloway (middle)
Michael McGimpsey (left) with Dr Philip McGarry (right) and Dr Frank Holloway (middle)

Money saved from closing mental health beds in hospitals is not all being ploughed back into community-based services, a psychiatrist has claimed.

Dr Philip McGarry, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, was speaking ahead of a mental health conference due to open in Belfast later on Friday.

He said services in Northern Ireland were "not fit" for the 21st century.

He added mental health provision in NI was "years behind" England and Wales and warned cuts could make thing worse.

Dr McGarry said there were patients in psychiatric hospitals "who don't need to be there, but they are staying there because the alternative facilities have not yet been made available".

The chairman also said that they were committed to implementing the proposals of the Bamford Review, which recommended the transfer of mental health services from hospitals to community-based care, but said they needed the necessary resources in order to carry this out.

People in Northern Ireland deserve as good a quality of mental health service as elsewhere - we don't have that at the moment.
Dr Philip McGarry

He added there was "real anxiety" that proposed cuts to the overall health budget in Northern Ireland would result in "poorer quality" of mental health services than before.

"We are well behind England and Wales in terms of services for psychotherapy, for personality disorder, for assertive outreach, people with severe mental issues and there are concerns we will drift yet further behind if cuts impact on those services being made available.

'Unfit for purpose'

"People in Northern Ireland deserve as good a quality of mental health service as elsewhere - we don't have that at the moment," Dr McGarry added.

"We are not providing mental health services which are really fit for purpose for the 21st century."

The Bamford Review said mental ill-health affected every fourth citizen in Northern Ireland.

The Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, said £5.6m had been invested in community mental health services since 2008 but added that demand was "growing at a much faster rate than funding".

"In the last two years there has been an increase of over 20% in demand for services, yet our funding has only increased by 0.5% in real terms," he said.

He added that he was still determining where the cuts in his department's budget would fall.

"We don't have enough resource to match the need out there so there is that need going unmet, however that being said mental health is my number one priority with learning disability," he said.

"I will not walk away from them.

"I am determined that they get the support that they need because our mental health needs in Northern Ireland are 25% greater than England but our spend here is 25% less.

"We have a very poor record in terms of support in that area and I am determined to address that and I am addressing it."



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