Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Deirdre Clune: I thank the Minister for being here to respond on this matter. I raise this issue because this week is national awareness week for eating disorders. I have always had an interest in this area because individuals and families who have been faced with this issue have come to me over the years because they have not known where to turn. The more one gets involved in this area, the more one realises the lack of services, although there have been some improvements, particularly with the provision of beds for children and adolescents with mental health issues. Nonetheless, we need greater awareness of this issue and of the need for services at GP and primary care level in the community.
I pay tribute to BodyWhys, an organisation which carries extensive advocacy work in this area. By coincidence, it had a briefing for Oireachtas Members today at which it informed us it had in excess of 300,000 calls last year. This week, BodyWhys has made available a resource for the schools’ SPHE programme, entitled, Responding to Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues. This provides information on what an eating disorder is and how it can be recognised. It explains how teachers can recognise them and respond in the school environment and how best to work with the parents of those affected. This will be a valuable resource. The more information we have available, the more individuals, particularly young people, can be helped.
The statistics involved with eating disorders are frightening. The average age for the onset of anorexia is 14 years of age and for bulimia it is 17. However, children as young as nine have been affected by the disorder. Early intervention and treatment are recognised as the most successful method of dealing with eating disorders. It is not only girls who are affected, although 1.2% of Irish girls are at risk of developing anorexia nervosa and 2% at risk of developing bulimia. Males are at risk also, although a smaller percentage of them.
Some €35 million has been ring-fenced for the provision of mental health services in our community. This is part of the programme for Government and the promise was repeated in the HSE service plan. I would like to know how much of this €35 million will be dedicated to services for those with eating disorders and their families.
Deputy Joan Burton: I thank the Senator for raising this important issue, which affects a large number of young girls, in particular, and families. I am responding on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is responsible for these matters. I am pleased to have an opportunity to confirm to the House that it is planned that some of the additional funding that was allocated to the mental health area in budget 2012 will be used to support the treatment of eating disorders. It is intended that the additional resources will be rolled out in conjunction with a scheme of appropriate clinical care programmes, which are currently being developed. The three specific areas that will be prioritised in 2012 are the treatment and care of patients with eating disorders, early intervention in psychosis and suicide prevention.
A fundamental principle of early intervention for any health condition is that identification, diagnosis and treatment should occur as early as possible to maximise the likelihood that interventions will successfully minimise the burden of suffering. By strengthening our community mental health teams and enhancing the capacity of primary care to deal with people with mental health issues, it is hoped we will go a long way towards achieving that goal. Therefore, the €35 million in funding will primarily be used to strengthen community mental health teams in adult and children’s mental health services. It will ensure at least one person from each mental health professional discipline is represented on every team. Over 400 additional staff will be recruited to support initiatives under this €35 million package.
It is important to recognise that the primary care sector has a significant role to play in the management and treatment of eating disorders. Individuals with eating disorders frequently present to primary care practitioners with complications of their conditions. Early intervention at this level greatly improves outcomes. There is a need to enhance the capacity of primary care to recognise, assess and treat a range of mental illnesses within the primary care setting. To this end, the HSE and Dublin City University have developed a mental health in primary care accredited training programme for primary care practitioners. The programme aims to give primary health care staff the necessary knowledge and skills to respond to the mental health care issues that arise in primary care. I understand it has been very well received.
Services for people with eating orders are also provided in the voluntary sector. The HSE provides funding to BodyWhys, which is a national voluntary organisation that supports people with eating disorders. BodyWhys provides a range of support services for people affected by eating disorders, including specific services for families and friends. BodyWhys also offers a range of supports to health promotion departments throughout the HSE. This interface provides welcome expertise from the service user perspective.
I am confident that the additional €35 million that has been provided for mental health in 2012 will ensure that improved services are provided to people with eating disorders. I accept that the expenditure reductions in 2012 will challenge all areas of the health system to provide continuity of services that are appropriate and safe for patients. As in other care areas, efficiency and other savings will be required from the mental health service nationally. This will necessarily involve some rationalisation and reorganisation of services at local and regional level. We are fortunate that the additional resource which has been made available in mental health gives us an opportunity to prioritise areas for development. I am conscious that development funding for mental health was diverted in the past. I assure the House that the Department of Health will work closely with the HSE to ensure the €35 million that has been provided in this case will be used to fund the commitment in the programme for Government to develop the necessary community-based mental health services and the other essential initiatives I have described.
Senator Deirdre Clune: I am glad the Minister has said, on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, that eating disorders are recognised and that the funding to be provided in the community mental health area will be used to help those with eating disorders. As this week is eating disorders awareness week, it is important that we are debating this issue and making a public commitment to it in this House. I thank the Minister for that.
Deputy Joan Burton: I concur with what the Senator said about BodyWhys. I know of families that have been affected by eating disorders. It is an incredibly painful issue not only for the individual, but also for the members of his or her family, who feel helpless they watch as an active and lovely young child growing into somebody with a difficult eating disorder. I thank the Senator for raising the issue.
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