Northern Ireland news

Vulnerable patient kept at emergency department for a week amid growing concerns over mental health funding

The Emergency Department at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.
Paul Ainsworth

THE South Eastern Health Trust has warned it is "working beyond capacity" as it emerged a vulnerable patient with mental health issues has spent seven nights in the emergency department of the Ulster Hospital.

The patient, who is being cared for in a private cubicle at the Dundonald hospital's A&E ward, has been unable to access a bed in any of the north's dedicated mental health units, the BBC has reported.

Details of the case emerged the same week as the NI Audit Office warned the north's 10-year Mental Health Strategy was "at risk without sustained, additional investment".

A report highlighted how mental health problems in Northern Ireland are around 25 percent higher than in England.

The north's Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhán O'Neill, recently warned healthcare funding cuts could have a "detrimental impact" on vulnerable people.

She called for funding to be protected during Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this month.

Upon details of the patient at the Ulster Hospital emergency department emerging, a spokesperson for the South Eastern Trust said it was "working beyond capacity, including in mental health, to manage admissions to our wards".

“The Trust is working closely with our regional colleagues to respond to the demands on inpatient services," the spokesperson said.

“This ensures patients who most need hospital inpatient care are prioritised and admitted first.

“Patients are provided with specialist mental health care, if required and offered support and treatment until a suitable bed becomes available."

In the recent Audit Office report, the Comptroller and Auditor General, Dorinnia Carville, said around one-in-five adults in the north have experienced mental health problems, while one-in-eight young people have experienced anxiety and depression.

Read more: Mental health strategy at risk without sustained investment, auditor reports

Over half of all people on waiting lists for referrals waited longer than the target of nine weeks, or 13 weeks for psychological therapies.

Funding for mental health is lower in the north than anywhere else in the UK and Ireland.

Up to £190 million would be required annually to bring NI in line with the rest of the UK, the 'Mental Health Services in Northern Ireland' report found.

Just 5.7 percent of the north's overall health budget was reserved for mental health treatment - below the 10 percent recommended by the World Health Organisation.

“I recognise the significant challenges that the departments are faced with given the current budget allocation. However, cuts across all government departments will have a detrimental impact on the mental health of the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland," Professor O’Neill said after meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris.

Following the release of the Audit Office report, Professor O'Neill added on Tuesday: "I'm very concerned that the successful implementation of the Mental Health Strategy might be at risk without the sustained additional investment that we need."

Read more: Now is the time to plug the gap in mental health funding for Northern Ireland