Poor mental health is a massive issue in Northern Ireland. All studies and research points that the problem in Northern Ireland is 25% higher when compared across the UK.
So what does that look like in reality? It means that a startling one in four adults and one in nine children in Northern Ireland will experience mental health problems during the course of their lives.
Right now there are 450,000 people in our relatively small country currently affected by mental ill health. That’s a staggering fact and one which sadly has been overlooked until very recent times.
Sadly, the publication of latest performance times by the Health and Social Care Board will bring no comfort and will be no surprise to the many patients, family members, support workers and health care professionals who find themselves at the sharp end of this growing catastrophic position.
In May of this year the Health Minister Michelle O’Neill inherited what was already a significant problem of poor mental health in Northern Ireland.
Earlier this year the Ulster Unionist Party recognised this and we produced our own far-reaching paper on mental health which included 15 specific proposals, many of which if implemented would directly help ease many of the current problems.
As my party’s spokesperson on mental health I have incessantly lobbied the Minister to put into action her pledge of championing mental health and to redress the inequalities that evidently exist with physical health provision.
However, it makes for cold reading when you see the failure of the Department and the Minister to mobilise and address what was a well identified problem.
In my own constituency of Lagan Valley, which is predominantly covered by the South Eastern and Belfast Trust, it is alarming to see that the greatest waiting times for psychological intervention services are in those two localities. In fact, there has been a mammoth increase in waiting times in the South Eastern Trust area for mental health psychological therapies.
My office is dealing with patients and care providers on a weekly basis who are crying out for help and support, who feel totally let down by the Health Department. There is a duty of care on the Department to provide safe environments for its staff and its clients. Again, the high levels of staff sickness and absence can be directly linked to working in an environment of pressure, under resourcing and lack of vision.
These areas can and must be addressed in the short term. I believe that if the Minister doesn’t listen to the call from the Trusts for urgent support to address the crisis, then not only will we witness a intensification of what is already before us but sadly we could be faced with a collapse of an overburdened system.
As an Opposition MLA in the Assembly I am not prepared to sit on my hands on this issue or be appeased with a series of promises that historically have not met the needs of a suffering community.
Putting patients first and at the centre of health care is what health provision should be about, nearly six months into the Minister’s term it’s about time we got some action and a bit less of the buzzwords that have been bandied about to this point.
Ulster Unionist Mental Health spokesperson