The Head of Health and Community Wellbeing presented the above report, details of which had been previously circulated to Members. The purpose of the report was to seek Members’ views on the Department of Health’s Draft Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031 Consultation Document.
Councillor Doyle advised that he had submitted a notice of motion for the January meeting of full Council regarding the mental health strategy. He was aware that within the recommendations, that Members’ views would be collated. He advised that part of his motion was to bring all parties and independent members together to look in depth at what specifically this strategy would mean for the city and district. He believed that the strategy was one of the most important documents to be produced recently and that significant areas with mental health provision required attention.
Councillor Farrell stated that the SDLP were of the opinion that the document was a very honest assessment on the state of our mental health services across the North. Unfortunately, it painted a sorry picture of the existing provision. However, he felt that there were ambitious plans to address the failings. He stated that his Party was in broad agreement with the actions outlined, but the real test would be about delivery of the strategy. He stated that previously there had been numerous strategies and action plans that had amounted to nothing due to not being given political priority, adequate resources or funding. He noted that the North had the highest rate of mental health problems in the UK with the lowest rate of funding. He stated that there were lengthy waiting lists in the Western Trust area as demand had outstripped supply. In addition, not training enough social workers or mental health nursing staff or clinical psychologists had resulted in significant vacancies. With regard to waiting lists, he stated that the Trust was transparent on such matters and the data and statistics were clearly illustrated on their website regarding mental health waiting lists. However, whilst attempting to find comparable data with other trusts, this had proven difficult.
Continuing, he stated that he welcomed the commitment within the strategy regarding regional oversight and performance monitoring. He also welcomed the commitment for a regional crisis service, therefore there would no longer be a constant funding battle to sustain our own local crisis intervention service. However, he felt that the real test would be in its’ success. He noted that only 40% of people with mental health problems in the North were able to access effective health care. Also, 80% of people who sought treatment felt that the service that they had received was not what they needed. He noted that at the November meeting of full Council, he raised the issue of mental health waiting lists and that one person in the WHSCT area was waiting 171 weeks to access psychological therapies. He reported that more recent data had reported that they were still waiting, for over three and a half years. He stated that the test of the strategy would be if people could access services in a timely manner and when they do access those services, would it be the right service that would make an actual difference to their lives.
Councillor Burke stated that Sinn Féin welcomed the progress in producing an effective mental health strategy and commended the work carried out within the draft document. She stated that everyone was aware of the serious threat and issues regarding mental health and as the previous speaker had mentioned, the matter has been discussed in the Chamber on numerous occasions. She stated that despite the tremendous efforts of workers within all areas of mental health, the service has been lacking and has been for a long time. She further stated that Council, was well aware of the need for a sustainable crisis support service.
Continuing, she stated that mental health issues had increased during the pandemic and subsequently increased what was already a highly sought after and demanded service. She felt that mental health was an issue that required immediate attention. She referred to the draft document and stated that the joint up approach to producing the document including the cross departmental and cross sectoral engagement and the public element of the consultation, would hopefully allow a full picture of the issues. She felt that it would also allow a broader, joint up discussion and approach of ideas and solution to tackling those issues. She stated that mental health has been neglected for too long and the draft strategy was an opportunity to shape a structured, practical and effective solution to both address and deal with the issues that have significantly impacted our communities. She advised that her Party would forward the response to the consultation in due time.
Councillor Ferguson stated that she was happy to forward her Party’s comments to officers for the consultation. She welcomed the report and stated that it was much needed in a way of producing an action plan and strategy moving forward, particularly the regional crisis service. She asked what the deadline was for the submission of comments to the consultation document.
In response, the Head of Health and Community Wellbeing advised that responses had to be submitted by 26 March 2021. He stated that an ideal scenario would be to present a report to the February Committee meeting. However, it was unlikely that the timeframe for February reports submission would be met, therefore it was intended to have the responses collated by mid-February for Members’ consideration at the March Committee meeting.
Alderman Devenney echoed the sentiments expressed by the previous speakers. He stated that his party welcomed the strategy and it had given a stark picture of mental health provision across Northern Ireland. He stated that it was important to deliver the service properly and that people were offered the correct service. He stated that whilst mental health referral numbers were high, there were people with mental health issues suffering in silence and it was important to get the message out to those people to come forward as there was help available.
Councillor Donnelly stated that a word often used when discussing mental health was crisis. He stated that he was in no doubt that there was a huge crisis throughout the city and district regarding mental health. He believed that he did not see a strategy working and had based this on dealing with people suffering from mental health issues on a daily basis. He stated that one person in particular had become homeless and had experienced great difficulty in receiving assistance, which he described as unacceptable. He stated that there was an onus on all political parties to get these issues addressed as they were spiralling out of control.
The Chair stated that traditionally, mental health provision was the poor relative of the NHS and continually underfunded. He hoped that the consultation document finally received the attention it deserved.
Recommended that Members (i) consider the Draft Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031 Consultation Document and provide views/comments and (ii) a draft response incorporating Members’ views be prepared by Council officers for consideration at a future Health and Community Committee meeting prior to submission to the Department of Health by 26th March 2021.