Editor's Viewpoint: Mental health care deserving of parity
Mental health services are often referred to as the Cinderella sector of the NHS in Northern Ireland and new statistics from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the province give compelling strength to that argument.
The Royal College has discovered that over the past decade the total number of beds for all mental illness fell by 46.2%. The reduction came as the incidence of mental illness grew to a very high level.
The net result is that bed occupancy rates are at almost total capacity, well above the maximum 85% occupancy rate recommended to allow wards to run smoothly and react to any sudden influx of patients.
From these bare statistics it is clear that much greater investment is needed in mental health services. There is growing evidence that the emergence from conflict revealed a large number of damaged individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the growing drink and drug addiction rates have a detrimental spin-off.
But statistics can never tell the whole story. Sometimes it takes a personal tale to show what the effect is of the lack of resources to deal with mental health issues.
Our story of a recovering drug addict who ended up in police custody after a violent outburst in a hospital emergency department shows the frustration felt by both sufferers and their families over inability to access the treatment they feel is needed.
The man, who earlier in the week self-harmed, had already been turned away from another hospital when he lost control after waiting nine hours to be assessed. His outburst came when he was told he could not be admitted to the hospital.
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It is easy to understand the frustration of his sister, who accompanied him to the hospitals and is concerned that this particular story could have a grim outcome.
The Royal College wants mental health issues treated with the same esteem as given to physical health.
One demand is greater investment in community-based services as well as allowing patients to have a bed within their own health trust area. As the Royal College points out, physical health demands increase in winter but mental health problems are a year-round problem.
This is yet another compelling reason why either devolved government is restored or the Secretary of State takes measures to empower civil servants to begin the transformation of the health service.