More than £1 billion is needed to transform mental health services in Northern Ireland through a 10-year plan, Robin Swann has said.
Outlining a strategy to run from 2021-2031, the Health Minister described mental ill-health as “one of the greatest challenges facing us today”.
Addressing the Stormont Assembly, Mr Swann said the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions have had, and will continue to have, a “significant impact on our population’s mental health”.
He told MLAs it is estimated that the long-term effects of the pandemic may create up to 32% more referrals over the next three years.
“That means more than 19,000 referrals in adult mental health, over 5,000 more referrals to psychological services, and over 24,000 more unscheduled care contacts,” he said.
“This is at a time when our mental health services are already under significant pressure … with health and social care trusts consistently operating above 100% bed occupancy levels in acute adult mental health services.
“We hear of stories of patients who have to wait for very long periods in emergency departments under PSNI supervision as there are no beds available in mental health, and of patients on mattresses on floors.”
Mr Swann described the new mental health strategy as “built on a vision of a society which promotes emotional wellbeing and positive mental health for everyone, which supports recovery and seeks to reduce stigma and mental health inequalities”.
It consists of 35 actions across three themes of promoting good mental health, providing the right support at the right time, and new ways of working.
It was published on Tuesday alongside a Mental Health Funding Plan designed to identify the costs associated with developing, establishing and maintaining the services set out in the strategy actions.
The plan identifies an estimated investment need in the region of £112 million to £158 million revenue funding year on year and around £285 million for a capital one-off investment.
Mr Swann said: “Addressing the current challenges through the actions in the strategy is dependent on the availability of significantly increase and sustained funding.
“The funding plan has identified an investment need of £1.2 billion over the next 10 years to fully implement the strategy.
“This is a significant investment need and clearly something that I cannot fund from within existing departmental budgets.
“It will require a collective effort to bring about the much-needed reform of mental health services.”
The minister said the strategy is a result of input from hundreds of people who took part in meetings, workshops, online events and direct communication with the department.