The long waiting lists for psychiatric consultation some over 12 months old in several areas of the country must be reduced urgently, it was claimed today.
Dan Neville, a Fine Gael TD, demanded that the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) be made available to mental health patients.
He said, "It is simply unacceptable that waiting lists in many areas of the country are in excess of 12 months for psychiatric consultation. Despite this the NTPF has never been available to mental health patients and, in the area of child and adolescent psychiatry, in particular, there are waiting periods of one year or more."
Neville added, "I am calling on the Minister for Health to take this small step in addressing the crisis in psychiatric services by immediately making available the NTPF and waiting list initiative to deal with a totally disgraceful situation."
This fund had been set up to treat people who have been waiting the longest for treatment in the country's public hospitals. Their treatment can be arranged in private hospitals in Ireland and Britain, or if need be even in other countries.
Mr Neville, the party's health spokesman, said it was well known that dealing early with psychiatric and emotional difficulties was key to restoration of mental health.
He said, "In 80% of cases in Ireland the psychological and social needs of patients are ignored. Private psychotherapists and psychologists are available in the community. There is no reason, assuming that quality of care is assured, why we cannot buy eight or 10 sessions for the individuals concerned under the NTPF. Why should the treatment of varicose veins be more important than depression?"
According to Mr Neville research had shown that one in four people will experience mental health issues in their lifetime. Figures have shown that in 1997, around 11% of the total health budget was spent on psychiatric service while in 2006, only 7% was being spent.
Reports released by the World Health Organization state that psychiatric conditions account for 19% of total disability, while 10% of people with severe mental illness die by suicide.
Neville said, "It is a disgrace that, while mental health issues cause more disability than lung problems, the development of services is neglected year after year. The Irish College of Psychiatry have reported that one consultant and a partial team can have up to 600 patients which is ludicrous and detrimental to the patients well-being. Psychiatrists, nurses and administrators do their best but the situation is impossible. Those working in the sector get bogged down."