Northern Ireland

Nexus to have counselling contract extended for a year

Health Minister Robin Swann made the announcement at the Assembly.

Pupils who are offered counselling services experience significantly improved self-esteem
Health Minister Robin Swann told the Assembly that there was “real concern” that Nexus was delivering a lower-than-contracted number of counselling sessions Health Minister Robin Swann told the Assembly that there was “real concern” that Nexus was delivering a lower-than-contracted number of counselling sessions

A charity that provides counselling support to victims of sexual abuse is to have its contract extended by a year.

However, Health Minister Robin Swann told the Assembly that there was “real concern” that Nexus was delivering a lower-than-contracted number of counselling sessions.

Nexus said last week that its free specialist adult counselling service in Northern Ireland was to end on March 31 after it was advised by the Department of Health that there were no plans to replace the existing contract.

However, answering an urgent oral question in the Assembly, Mr Swann said that “significant performance and operational issues” had been identified in relation to the delivery of the contract.

He said: “I should clarify that these largely relate to efficiency and lower than expected numbers of sessions rather than the quality of the counselling that is being provided.

“The areas of identified underperformance include the number of counselling services provided, with a projected 24% gap for this year between the contracted sessions and the total delivered.

“To put that in perspective, on the current trajectory, that is over 4,000 fewer sessions being delivered than expected and considering the need and demand for such services, that is something that does cause real concern.”

Mr Swann said his department had been examining potential alternative arrangements following the conclusion of the Nexus contract.

He added: “It is clear to me that further work is required on mapping out future sustainable arrangements.

“I have therefore instructed that the Nexus contract be extended for a further 12 months, with close monitoring of performance throughout that period.

“Whilst there may be some deep concerns about the broader delivery of the contract, equally I was not prepared to tolerate a position whereby new victims and survivors had no service at all come April.

“This one-year extension will allow proper consideration, decision and implementation of the best way forward for counselling services of this nature.”

The charity said last week it had stopped taking referrals on February 29 in a move to wind down the service that had been funded by the department, and has notified more than 800 people on its waiting list, and almost 300 clients currently in counselling.

However, a number of politicians had called for a review of the situation, warning that Northern Ireland could be left without any counselling services for victims of sexual abuse.

The SDLP’s Cara Hunter welcomed the extension of funding for Nexus
2022 NI Assembly election The SDLP’s Cara Hunter welcomed the extension of funding for Nexus (Liam McBurney/PA)

Responding to Mr Swann’s announcement of a contract extension, SDLP MLA Cara Hunter said: “This announcement will be a huge relief to victims of sexual abuse who rely on this counselling to support them.

“News that free counselling services were being removed had caused great uncertainty, with hundreds of people in crisis referred to Nexus each month for help.

“In the days since the initial announcement we have heard from numerous victims and survivors about just how important these services have been in helping them rebuild their lives.

“Anyone who goes through the horrendous ordeal of abuse will be left with long-term impacts and I dread to think what could have happened if this support was not restored.”