Major concern over lack of consultant psychiatrists

Impacting patient services and staff morale

Deborah Condon

February 24, 2023

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  • The Government’s inability to recruit and retain consultant psychiatrists is “extremely worrying”, the College of Psychiatrists has said.

    According to its president, Dr Lorcan Martin, who is a consultant in general adult psychiatry, currently in Ireland, there are only around 500 consultant psychiatry posts and just three-quarters of these are filled on a permanent basis.

    He noted that ideally, there should be a minimum of 835 consultant posts filled to meet growing demand.

    Dr Martin also warned that current funding in this area is “perilously low”, which when combined with the lack of staffing, is having a major impact on the level of services that can be provided to patients.

    He pointed out that the total budget for national mental health services is just 5.6% of the overall health budget despite the “widespread acceptance that a minimum of 10-12% of the health budget should be provided for mental health services”. Furthermore, current funding for training doctors to be specialists in psychiatry is at least €600,000 short of what is required.

    “These figures are wholly inadequate to serve the needs of some of the most vulnerable in our society who have moderate to severe mental illnesses. At present, we do not have nearly enough doctors in psychiatry to meet patient demand,” he commented.

    Dr Martin said that this issue “is a symptom of our difficulty in both recruiting doctors to services and retaining those already working here”.

    He insisted that if a “meaningful plan” is put in place to improve working conditions for doctors and the funding issue is tackled, “then an adequate number of appropriately trained professionals to resource services should follow”.

    He noted that the lack of consultant psychiatrists has a direct negative impact on the training of NCHDs and could lead to major crises in the future, such as that highlighted in the South Kerry CAMHS service recently.

    “Our NCHDs are the future of our health system. The college’s training programme has seen steady growth in applications from doctors in the last number of years. It is clear they want to stay and practise in Ireland so the government and HSE should be doing everything in their power to make that decision an easy one,” Dr Martin said.

    He added that NCHDs need to work in a positive environment that promotes best practice and innovation “if we are to avoid losing another generation of doctors to emigration”.

    Dr Martin made his comments ahead of the college’s annual conference in Dublin on February 24.

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