Over £1 billion is needed over the next 10 years to help overhaul and improve mental health services in Northern Ireland, a government minister has said.
Addressing the Northern Ireland Assembly, Health Minister Robin Swann outlined a decade-long strategy for 'transforming' mental health care across the country.
Running from 2021 to 2031, the strategy includes 35 actions across three overarching themes of promoting mental wellbeing, resilience and good mental health across society; providing the right support at the right time; and new ways of working.
Within the 3 themes, plans for improving various aspects of mental health are described, including early intervention, crisis services, and digital mental health.
The plan estimates around £112 million to £158 million needed in investment per year of the strategy, as well as a one-off £285 million capital investment, to help implement it fully.
The strategy has been developed with the input of hundreds of individuals, says Swann, all of which combined have resulted in a plan to tackle “one of the greatest challenges facing us today" in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Swann told Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly that the impact of the pandemic could lead to a 32% increase in referrals over the next 3 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.”
According to Swann, the strategy can only be realised through "significantly increased 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," he said.
"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."
To read more about the Health Minister's strategy to improve mental health services in Northern Ireland, click here.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health