Fears Over State Of NI Mental Health Service

The Health Minister, Paul Goggins, has called for urgent action over Northern Ireland’s level of service for mental health services for young people. Fears have emerged following the revelation that a 17-year-old girl admitted to hospital with anorexia nervosa had to wait for four days to see a psychiatrist. The family of Lauren Martin – who weighs four stone – was told thatbecause she was legally classed as an adult,doctors could not intervene until she went into a coma.

Her sister Janice Farr said the family spent days trying to get her to eat or drink, but “she was in such a mental state that nobody could get through to her”.

It is understood the teenager agreed to try to help herself after speaking to psychiatrists, but said: “I know I can say no at any time.”

The Ulster Hospital in Dundonald where Lauren was admitted, have said they realised the Martin family needed reassurance at an early stage regarding their plans for her treatment. A statement issued by the hospital said: “As a trust, we recognise the need for better communications with relatives and we will take time to reflect on how we can improve communications in the future.”

Mr Goggins yesterday emphasised the Department of Health’s commitment to improvement of mental health services. “The Bamford Review will set the scene for the delivery of modernised high-quality mental health services across Northern Ireland,” he said. “We have an existing strategy to take forward the development of services to meet the needs of people with eating disorders. I have asked officials to urgently look at our existing strategy to make sure that we have the appropriate level of response to meet the needs of these vulnerable people.

“I am determined that we will improve the overall capacity of mental health services in Northern Ireland. Our intention is to develop a level of hospital and community support that reduces the current need to refer patients to England for such treatment.”

The minister said that he wished to reassure Lauren’s family that she was receiving all the necessary treatment she needed.

A 15-year programme of change has been proposed by the Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability services in Northern Ireland. The review committee was chaired by Dr Fred Brown, consultant forensic psychiatrist, who said that people in need of such services were “some of the most marginalised . . . and poorly understood individuals in Northern Ireland, and the services to meet their needs are some of the least developed. It’s time to acknowledge the legitimate needs of people who use forensic services and their carers and to make the necessary commitment for getting things right,” he said.

Peter Milner from the Alliance Party has said that the implementation of the Bamford Review be made as a matter of urgency. “It is appalling that patients requiring psychiatric treatment for anorexia and bulimia, many of whom are extremely vulnerable, are put at risk due to lack of adequate mental health policy. Many are left waiting for days on end to be told by an over-worked specialist that they will have to wait to be transferred to England, in order to access specialised treatment there.”