Mental health funding agreed in DUP /Tory deal 'must be released'
MENTAL health funding agreed as part of the DUP's deal with the Conservatives must be released, a group representing nine leading charities has said.
In June, the DUP negotiated funding of £50 million for mental health services over the next five years - part of a £1 billion deal struck in return for propping up the Tories' minority government.
However the first tranche of the package is not expected to be released until talks aimed at restoring power-sharing at Stormont have concluded.
Speaking on World Mental Health day yesterday, the Together for You partnership, which includes charities including Action Mental Health, Aware Defeat Depression, Nexus, Praxis and Cause, said the money must be released.
The group said the absence of an Executive is causing severe issues in the health service.
And it said the funding, which amounts to £10m per year over five years, is particularly needed in the north which has higher levels of poor mental health than in Britain or the Republic.
The north has higher rates of suicide than in Britain and prevalence of mental health problems is 25% higher than in England.
David Babington, chief executive of Action Mental Health, said more than three months after the DUP/Tory deal, waiting lists were continuing to grow.
"When we heard about the post-election pact between the DUP and the Conservative government we were relieved to see a direct focus on mental health investment," he said.
"However, as the months have rolled on, the political vacuum has halted proceedings in this regard.
"As a result, issues relating to mental health service delivery have exacerbated. We regularly hear of waiting lists growing and people in great need being made to wait for treatment and care."
He said the funds needed to be released "sooner rather than later".
"It has been well publicised that mental health spending in Northern Ireland is well below the level it should be… there has never been a greater need for investment in services," he said.
Meanwhile, Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said the north's economy is losing £30 million a year due to sick days related to mental health.
The Strangford MLA, who hosted an event for Action Mental Health at Parliament Buildings yesterday, said the health problem had a huge economic impact.
"The issue of mental health has been in the headlines in recent times, with recent statistics showing one in every five adults will suffer a mental health problem at some stage in our lifetime," she said.
"Not only does this increase pressures on an already overburdened health service but it also impacts hugely on the economy by accounting for a sizeable chunk of sick days among Northern Ireland's businesses and services."