The share of government cash allocated to address severe under-funding in Northern Ireland's mental health and learning disability provision is a " derisory" offer that will have little impact on urgently-needed plans to completely overhaul services.
That's the view of one of Northern Ireland's top mental health experts who is urging the public to actively join a protest against the shortfall in funding for vital services.
Professor Roy McClelland, chair of the Board for Mental Health and Learning Disability (NI), spoke of his outrage that money ring-fenced in the draft government budget for such services over the next three years is nowhere near enough to bring services up to standard.
The professor was also the chair of The Bamford Review which worked for five years to examine mental health and learning disability services in the province. It concluded that an extra £50m needs to be invested in such services over the next three years to implement its recommendations, which have been widely accepted as the best way forward.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has made the implementation of the Bamford Review one of his priorities since taking up office. Mental health funding is one of the key areas of need he has highlighted in recent weeks as part of his fight for more money in the draft budget allocation for the Health Service.
A Department of Health document circulated to members of the Assembly's Health Committee last week claimed the minister will get less than a quarter of the funds he needs for mental illness and learning disability services next year. The document revealed only £4m would be spent on new services for people with mental illnesses and learning disabilities during 2008/9, even though the Department wanted £17m.
A total of £7m would be available for 2009/10, even though Mr McGimpsey sought £29m and £18m would be available for 2010/11 despite him making a £48m bid.
This will mean staffing levels in the sector will be 500 below the level recommended in the Bamford Review of mental health.
Prof McClelland said the draft budget for mental health services has given " short shrift to the serious deficiencies in our mental health and learning disability services, by proposing a budget that will have little impact" . He also said significantly more investment is needed if the review's recommendations are ever to become a reality.
"Many people with a mental health problem or a learning disability, their carers and those who provide services for them gave outstanding commitment to the Bamford Review. They expected their work to make a difference but as things stand this isn't going to happen, as the amount proposed for added investment in mental health and learning disability services is derisory," said the Board chair.
"The proposed allocation of £18m in total by 2011 is wholly unacceptable. Based on current spending patterns, this would provide just £9m to £10m for mental health with the balance for learning disability.
"An additional £9m or £10m for mental health services - over three years - just isn't enough, as a large number of services require reform and modernisation. Such limited resources can lead only to hard questions, difficult choices and piecemeal investment. For example, should investment go to services for adults, to those for children and young people or to those for older people?"
He added: "The people of Northern Ireland want and deserve services that are fit for the 21st Century. So, on behalf of the Board I am calling on everyone who wants us to secure the necessary investment to make their views known, by responding to the draft budget consultation."
The consultation is open until January 4 2008. People can respond by writing or by attending public consultation meetings. More information is available at http://www.pfgbudgetni.gov.uk