January 26, 2009

Publication: Irish Examiner

Date: Monday, January 19, 2009 Page: 7

Author: Jennifer Hough

Headline: HSE spent €6.5m on treating 39 mentally ill Irish people in Britain

MORE than €6.5 million was spent on treating 39 Irish people with mental illnesses in Britain over a thre year period from 2005. The cost for care in overseas hospitals in 2007 came to €3.1m almost half of the total bill after the HSE sent 20 people to a range of facilities in Britain for treatment. Dr Siobhan Barry, clinical director of the Cluain Mhuire Service in Blackrock, Co Dublin, and spokeswoman of the Irish Psychiatric Association, said the overseas bill for mental health care was because of a lack of services here and also reflective of an "unmet need". She suggested the policy was shortsighted and demanded services should be developed here rather than spending money that will only benefit one person. "If we developed our own expertise and knowledge base, we would be able to keep people at home," Dr Barry said. "This is what we need to do and it would give a lot more value for money." Dr Barry said the majority were probably adolescents and children. She warned that reintegrating people, treated away, back into the system was often very difficult.

Brian Howard, head of Mental Health Ireland, said it was "really unfortunate" the state cannot provide the care people need. Travelling to another country for treatment could have a negative effect on a patient, he said, adding that questions must be asked why there are not similar services here. Mr Howard said with 3,000 child and adolescents on waiting lists for services it was imperative more resources were dedicated to the area. Only a tiny amount of development funds, he said, are spent on bettering child and adolescent services. Describing it as "unceptable", he claimed government policy in relation to mental health had "stalled".

Labour spokesperson for health Jan O'Sullivan said it seemed wrong that peo-ple are sent to other jurisdictions to be treated. "Obviously there might be a very unusual case every now and again, but people should be kept at home." Ms O'Sullivan said the monetary value of treating patients in Britain was very high. Five people were sent from the HSE western region, totalling almost 600,000 in 2007, while seven people from the south, totalling upwards of €1.5m, were treated.

Eight people from the Dublin area were treated in facilities in Britain at a cost of more than €l.5m. According to HSE figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, the number of people being treated for mental health problems has increased year on year from 2005 when just eight people had to travel overseas. The following year, 11 people had to travel for care, while in 2007 the figure was 20.