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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 80 - Mental health services [42358/20].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 80 - Mental health services [42358/20]. (10 Dec 2020)

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80. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Health if it will be ensured that mental health is part of universal health coverage by including care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42358/20]

Deputy Verona Murphy: I had a very disturbing conversation with a young man ten days ago. He has 20 friends in a social circle and he told me that 18 of them are using drugs. Unfortunately, the two in the group who do not use drugs are struggling with their mental health because they are being ostracised for not joining in. His younger brother has the same problem. When he tries to join his friends, they just turn their backs on him as if to say he is a spoilsport or self-righteous. It is equally stressful for the parents involved, seeing their children trying to do the right thing but struggling to deal with being shunned by their friends. Will the Minister of State ensure mental health is part of universal health coverage by including care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders?

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Mary Butler): I thank the Deputy for her question. I know mental health and all the challenges people face are close to her heart. At every opportunity she gets she comes in here and raises these issues in a constructive manner. She was here again yesterday for the Private Members' business regarding mental health. I thank her for keeping mental health front and centre. It is hugely important.

We have never needed to put such a focus on mental health as we do at the moment. The Covid pandemic has come down hard on people and I hear the Deputy's concerns about that group of young people and the challenges they are facing. As we look forward to developing our roadmap to building a world-class healthcare system, including putting mental health front and centre, the Sláintecare vision is to achieve a universal single-tier healthcare system. We have a lot of work to do but much of it has started.

Our refreshed mental health policy, Sharing the Vision, is complemented by a national implementation and monitoring committee, NIMC, which will hold its inaugural meeting tomorrow at 11 a.m. We had a fantastic document previously in A Vision for Change but not all of it was implemented and this time will be different. The NIMC will hold both me and the Minister for Health to account, as well as the HSE and the Department. This is the first time we have had clear oversight. To give the Deputy an overview of the independent make-up of the committee, it will be chaired by Mr. John Saunders, who is known from the Mental Health Commission. Mental health reformers are included, as well as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, family representatives, minority groups, service users, representatives of Sláintecare and NGOs across the board. The most important thing we can do is to keep the issue of mental health front and centre at the moment.

Deputy Verona Murphy: I thank the Minister of State for her co-operation on yesterday's Private Members' business. It was greatly appreciated. This is a very serious matter and it can be difficult to leave a group of friends or to stand up to peer pressure. It is a stressful situation for those directly involved, as well as their parents. It is alarming that of one social group of 20 young people, 18 are regular drug users. It is hard to imagine the scale of the mental health issues caused by drug use across the country. We might be able to treat or deal with the physical health issues associated with neurological and substance use disorders but any strategies adopted must include mental health provisions as well. This problem exists all over Ireland and we can be pretty sure that similar scenarios exist in every constituency on the island. We need to update our schools drug policy. Funding for mental health services is required in this regard but we need to make that provision as well.

Deputy Mary Butler: I could not agree with the Deputy more. Our schools policy needs to be updated across many sectors but especially in regard to drug abuse. Sharing the Vision advocates for additional universal supports to provide care to individuals with complex mental health needs, including those presenting with co-existing mental health supports such as addiction or dual diagnosis. This is where it gets very complicated. As regards the dual diagnosis national clinical programme, a draft model of care is in place, which takes account of service users' views and ascribes the clinical pathway for patients with substance misuse issues and significant mental illness.

The draft model of care will not be published until it is finalised by the national clinical lead. We are awaiting approval from the Office of the Chief Clinical Officer. I take on board the Deputy's point. Education is key.

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