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Concern over MHC’s dependence on agency staff

The Mental Health Commission’s (MHC) finance, audit and risk committee (FARC) expressed concern earlier
this year about the Commission’s “high dependency” on agency staff. At a meeting of the MHC’s board in February, Chair of the FARC Mr Patrick Lynch welcomed the budgetary allocation for 2021, which amounted to €21.2 million.
However, Mr Lynch noted the FARC had concerns in relation to the high dependency on agency staff in 2021.

The increase in agency staff levels was “due to identified staffing shortages needed to deliver statutory functions, additional reporting responsibilities required by NPHET [national public health emergency team] due to Covid-19, covering short-term vacancies due to maternity leave and leavers”, according to meeting minutes.

“It was noted that the executive is actively reviewing its agency requirements and furthermore, there is an action in the 2021 business plan to review the staffing levels and activities of staff within the organisation.”

It was further noted there was no sanction from the Department of Health in 2020 to take on additional permanent staff, notwithstanding the additional work relating to Covid-19. The MHC’s 2021 budget includes additional once-off projects, which had been included in the business plan for the year. The FARC requested that a mid-year review of expenditure to date be completed by the executive. If there were significant savings mid-year, additional projects would then be proposed for the second half of the year.

Meanwhile, the Inspector of Mental Health Services has said the use of mechanical restraint in one of the country’s child and adolescent mental health centres is a concerning development. Dr Susan Finnerty’s comments were made with regard to Linn Dara Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service in Dublin 10, one of three inspection reports recently published by the MHC. In total, the reports identified four critical and 10 high-risk non-compliances.

“The use of mechanical restraint in the form of soft cuffs for a young person in Linn Dara is of significant concern,” according to Dr Finnerty. “Nationally, the use of mechanical restraint is confined to the adult forensic mental health services and then only in very limited circumstances, involving transport to and from the Central Mental Hospital.”

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