Speeches

Speech by Minister Moloney at the 0fficial opening of the Adolescent Inpatient Unit, St. Vincent’s Fairview

I am delighted to be here today and I would like to thank Ned Byrne and the Board and Staff of the Hospital for their kind invitation to me today to officially open the new 6 bed Unit here at St. Vincent’s.

This is an important healthcare facility which is designed to meet the needs of adolescents who are experiencing severe and/or complex mental health difficulties. The St Joseph’s Unit is designed and staffed to treat 16-18 year old adolescents and while today we are marking the official opening, I understand that the Unit has been in operation since last March and to date, 25 patients have been admitted for care and treatment. I am delighted to learn that the outcomes for service users have been very positive so far, and in this regard I would like to congratulate Dr. Harley and her team on their selfless dedication and hard work and wish them continued success in the years ahead.

The HSE Annual Report on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for 2008 which was published recently indicates that one in ten children suffer from some form of mental disorder and that the incidence of mental health problems amongst children and adolescents is increasing. As we are all too aware, mental health disorders in childhood are a predictor of mental health disorders in adulthood, and in this regard I am very hopeful that the services provided here at the St Joseph’s Unit will help young people in difficulty, in an effort to prevent them from developing major mental health problems in adulthood. It is I believe the recognition and application of early intervention for any young person experiencing mental health difficulties, which is the fundamental first step on the road to recovery. There is considerable evidence to show that early identification of behavioural difficulties and early implementation of family support programmes promote better mental health outcomes for children at risk.

The provision of these additional dedicated adolescent beds in Fairview, which will service the HSE Dublin North East area, is both welcome and timely. The Mental Health Act 2001 changed the definition of ‘child’ to include 16 and 17 year olds and ‘A Vision for Change’ recommended that services for children up to 18 years should be provided by the child and adolescent mental health service. The Mental Health Commission has also recently issued an addendum to their Code of Practice regarding the admission of children to adult units which seeks to ensure that by 1st December 2011, no child under 18 years will be admitted to an adult psychiatric unit.

Consequently there is a need to increase in-patient capacity for this age group. Along with the additional unit here at St Vincent’s, an 8 bed adolescent unit has opened in St Stephen’s Hospital, Cork this week. Work is also advancing on the construction of two new 20 bed child and adolescent units in Bessboro, Cork and in Merlin Park, Galway and these beds will be commissioned in 2010. While the focal point of modern mental health services is of course the community, and developing a community based service is the way forward, we recognise that acute hospitalisation will always be required to serve a minority who need intervention in safe, therapeutic settings.

With regard to community based services I am pleased that the HSE has prioritised the development of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and additional specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Teams have been established in 2009. Funding provided in the last Budget will enable the recruitment of 35 additional therapist posts to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, some of which have already been filled with the remainder to be filled early next year.

I think it is fair to say that the development of additional community based services coupled with the provision of additional in patient capacity, represent very real progress in the provision of mental health services for children and adolescents in this country.

I would also like to take the opportunity to mention the “What hurts and What helps” Report which I launched with my colleague the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews earlier this year. The report outlines the views of teenagers on mental health issues, so we now have a very clear picture of the positive and negative mental health experiences of teenagers. The most encouraging aspect of the report for me was the overwhelmingly deep understanding of mental health that young people already have at this early stage in their lives; the young people had both a language to express mental health issues and a finely tuned sense of what promotes and threatens their mental health.

I think the fact that our teenagers are comfortable to talk about their mental health is very reassuring and gives me much hope that the tide is turning on the stigma associated with mental illness.

I think it is important that as policy makers, as service providers, as organisations or as individuals working with children and adolescents, that we make concerted efforts to foster a culture where young people in distress, at whatever stage in their lives, do not hesitate to seek help; a culture that recognises the signs and signals of distress and is willing to help, and a culture which focuses on developing good coping skills and avoiding harmful practices.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the Board of St. Vincent’s on the completion of this very worthwhile project. I hope the young people who use the service will find great comfort and support here and that the positive outcomes which have been indicated for the first service users in the Unit will continue going forward. We are of course very lucky that the facility is staffed by such committed and dedicated staff and I have no doubt that the treatments provided here will have a very significant and positive impact on the lives of our young people. It gives me great pleasure to formally open the St Joseph’s Unit.

Thank You.