Here, we find out how Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD is helping to support mental health services, as well as alcohol and drug use issues in Ireland
The Minister for Health within the Government of Ireland is currently Simon Harris TD, a position he has held since 2016. (1) The mission of the Department of Health is to “improve the health and wellbeing of people in Ireland”, for example, by ensuring the best value is obtained from health system resources and that high-quality services are delivered. (2) Simon started his involvement in politics via his work as an advocate for disability and as such, is dedicated to ensuring that a strong voice is given when it comes to issues concerning mental health and special needs.
Mental health services in Ireland
Picking up on the aforementioned theme of mental health, it is worth highlighting that in early December 2019, Minister Harris TD and Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Mental Health Jim Daly TD, together announced funding worth €3 million to support community mental health initiatives throughout Ireland.
In light of the fact that the fund will promote mental health and alleviate loneliness by supporting local sports and community organisations, Minister for Health Simon Harris TD provided his thoughts on this during late 2019.
“This year, we will invest over €1 billion in mental health services. We will open a new state of the art Central Mental Hospital. We will recruit more staff.
“These national policies must support the role our local communities have in the area of mental health. They reach places our health service can’t. They have the trust, respect and admiration of their community. They are leaders and pillars of their community and this fund goes some way in recognising the invaluable work they do and to help them help us.” (3)
Staying on the theme of mental health, another noteworthy development in this vein came in late November 2019, when Minister for Health Simon Harris TD, along with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Daly TD launched a new mental health information phone line (freephone 1800 111 888). The Your Mental Health information line offers information on how to access services provided by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and funded partners throughout Ireland. Minister Harris TD explained this significant health policy development in his own words.
“This is a dedicated mental health information phone line for people who need advice, guidance and assistance at a very difficult time for them. The service information line represents an expansion to our Mental Health services, one of many significant developments and improvements that have occurred within mental health services over the past decade…We will also roll out online counselling initiatives and a national crisis textline in the coming months.” (4)
A look at alcohol and drug use
Finally, let’s look at one more area of health policy in Ireland. In mid-November 2019, Minister Harris TD discussed substance misuse, alcohol and measures to improve the outcomes for people who take drugs, with Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD at the British Irish Council Summit.
Minister Harris said that Ireland is taking several steps in the area of substance misuse. He went on to say that “alcohol advertising restrictions through the Public Health Alcohol Bill have recently come into force” and that in 2020, the Government of Ireland will “roll out a new health led-policy for persons found in possession of drugs” but stressed there is much more to do in this area. The Minister explains more about these areas in his own words and is we see that he is determined to make a difference, as this article ends on a positive note in spite of challenges that lie ahead.
“Scotland’s recently published analysis indicates that alcohol sales have fallen to their lowest level since records began in the first year of minimum pricing there.
“Ministers also had an opportunity to discuss drug use and the stigma people living with addiction feel. Europe’s drug problem is going through a particularly dynamic phase. People are using a wider range of substances than in the past, and no part of this country is immune from this challenge.
“We agreed we must take a health-led, person-centred approach to those in addiction and do everything we can to remove the barriers many people in addiction face. Our challenges are common but so too is our will and determination.” (5)