COVID-19: Update from President on College Activity and Advocacy

COVID-19: Update from President on College Activity and Advocacy

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses and further information becomes available, the College will be constantly providing new information to ensure the health and safety of our members and staff while promoting best practice at this trying time for the medical community. Click here for an evolving list of information by the College for all members and staff.

The letter below was sent to College members on 30 April, 2020. To view the letter sent to College members on 20 March, 2020, click here.

Dear colleague,

On behalf of the College, I want to express sympathy to the families of those who have passed away from Covid-19, especially those from residential mental health institutions. I also want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the staff who cared for them.

It is a false dawn when mention is made of the acute hospitals avoiding a surge while Covid-19 is taking a heavy toll among psychiatric patients. It is imperative, collectively and individually, that we continue to advocate strongly for parity of esteem for psychiatric illness. As I said in my last address, psychiatric patients should have the same access to testing, containment and treatment as other patients in the health system.

The responsibility of the College is to ensure there are fully trained and competent specialists who the Medical Council can place on the specialist register, to work in the Mental Health Services. The responsibility for delivery of these services is with the HSE and the responsibility for regulation is with the Mental Health Commission. The College continues to collaborate with the HSE and the Mental Health Commission to support them in their responsibilities.

I believe all who are involved in the Mental Health Services want what the College wants – the best possible outcomes for individuals who experience mental illness. This must mean parity of esteem for psychiatric illness. The challenge, as always, is how this is operationalised. We have issued press statements and correspondence to Minister Harris addressing this.

There are two main challenges ahead for the College in collaborating to achieve parity of esteem. The first is what we are doing during the Covid-19 crisis and the second is how to ensure that lessons are learnt from this crisis. Outlined below is what the College has been doing, and will continue to do, to meet the first challenge. The second challenge is evolving daily and requires us to use the College structures now and in the future (Faculties, Council, Communications & Policy etc) to collate and examine the learnings which can shape and define what parity of esteem means for us.


HSE Mental Health Operations and Faculty Input 

Collaboration with the Mental Health Operations Team is facilitated by monthly meetings between the Management Team of the College and the National Clinical Advisory Group Lead for Mental Health.  We welcome Dr Amir Niazi who has just taken up this post and look forward to mutually beneficial collaboration with him.

I have asked the Chairs of each Faculty to collate experiences and examples that can be used to guide these meetings with Mental Health Operations. It is important for the Faculty meetings to continue in some form to allow this to happen and I ask that members bring their experience and examples to their Faculty through the Chair or by ‘attending’ meetings remotely when they occur.


Mental Health Commission

The first principle of the College Professional Ethics for Psychiatrists is that “Psychiatrists shall treat every Patient with respect.” We have to be mindful of a patient’s human rights, the quality of care they receive, and that their best interests are considered a priority if they lack capacity.

The Mental Health Commission has been informed of our concerns about how the changes to the Mental Health Act and the Mental Health Commission regulations have the potential to undermine these values and may lead to unintended consequences of an adverse nature. I have provided them with specific examples of how Tribunals now operate and the regulations for Approved Centres as part of the ongoing communication with them.


‘Be on call for Ireland’ Initiative

This initiative was set up with the aim of employing healthcare staff who are not currently working for the HSE and quickly deploying them into the health service to work for the duration of the crisis. The duration is for a three month period but may be extended. The College’s role with this initiative is to give an expert recommendation for doctors with any level of psychiatric training as to what grade and setting they might work in.


College Video Series for Families of Young People with Mental Illness

Restrictive measures are difficult for everyone and an additional stress for those who suffer from or care for those with Mental Illness. The College, through the Communication, External Affairs & Policy Department, has been developing a video series titled Supporting Families of Young People with Mental Illness During Covid-19. I want to thank those who are leading out on this, Dr Kieran Moore, Prof Fiona McNicholas and Prof Louise Gallagher for their videos on ADHD, Eating Disorders and Autism respectively. While we have released them to media and relevant organisations to reach the families, I encourage you to share them with your teams and families who you believe will benefit from them. More videos are in the pipeline and being added to the website as they are completed.


COVID-19: Information and Updates on College Website

This evolving section on the College website, which is very useful for members and trainees, contains Covid-19 specific updates on Postgraduate Training, CPD, Healthcare Professionals’ welfare and College press statements during this crisis. Tips on self-care, links to useful resources as recommended by College members as well as the above video series are also published in this section.

If you wish to add anything to this section, please contact the Communication, External Affairs & Policy Department directly or through your Faculty and Faculty Chair.


College Activities and Business

All departments of the College are still operating, are available for members by email and phone, and are continuing with activities and functions that can be completed but in a different way when necessary to comply with Covid-19 restrictions. Some activities and functions cannot be carried out due to the restrictions but updates and possibilities are discussed daily by all concerned.


Post-COVID and Budgetary Parity of Esteem

I have no doubt there will be a reckoning when this crisis passes. For the past 12 years, Mental Health has received 6% or less of the overall Health Budget, when it should be 12%. We now see the consequences. What will this reckoning bring for Mental Health Services?

By coming together and using the processes in place in the College, be they Faculty meetings, Hot Topics or Training, we can define that reckoning and what it means for parity of esteem for psychiatric illness.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the hard work of all healthcare staff, who make up a quarter of all Covid-19 cases. Psychiatric services are very much still in operation across the country and are reporting to be very busy. There is much to be proud of despite these very difficult times.

With the wisdom to have hope for the future.


Yours sincerely,

Dr William Flannery