Mental health services 'need at least 160 more staff to cope with presssures'
At least 160 extra staff are needed to cope with the pressures on mental health services, the Stormont Assembly has been told.
The claim was made by SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan who pressed the Health Minister on what action, if any, was being taken to address the problems.
Mr Durkan said: "Given that health service authorities are now saying they need about 160 additional staff to deal with mental health pressures, what action has she taken to recruit staff in this area and to support external organisations, many of them unfunded, who provide services and support to people in their darkest hours?"
The Foyle MLA tabled an urgent oral question after it emerged that n one of the health and social care trusts have met the 13-week target times for treating people suffering from illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Health Minister Michelle O'Neill blamed a legacy of underfunding and increasing demand for psychotherapy services for the failures.
And while the Sinn Fein MLA vowed to tackle the problem, she cautioned there would be no quick fix solution.
Ms O'Neill said: "I am fully aware of the significant challenges that face us in relation to mental health.
"I am committed to improving services.
"This will be a long-term effort and, given the current budgetary position, there will be a need to prioritise.
"It is also important to note that even if all the money required right across all the mental health services was immediately available there would be a delay in utilising it fully, given the need to recruit highly skilled staff."
MLAs were also told that of the 1,798 patients in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust area, 773 waited longer than the targeted 13 weeks for treatment.
The minister said she wanted to see an end to the apparent postcode lottery.
She added: "We have to get to the point that no matter where you live in the north, you have the same access to services.
"It is unfortunate that in this moment in time, depending on where you live you may have better access to psychological therapies.
"That is not acceptable to me."
The minister said she was actively engaged in negotiations with the finance minister over how psychological therapies could be funded in the future.
"I will not be found wanting in terms of shouting and fighting very hard," she said.