AC, Baile Átha Cliath
On Monday night, just moments after Taoiseach, Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin, announced the government would not be taking the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (the government’s own Covid-19 research and advisory board) and go to stricter lockdowns nationally, White Knight and Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar, was straight onto RTÉ to throw NPHET under the bus for the sake of the public’s mental health.
“Poverty is one of the biggest killers you know” – @LeoVaradkar— Mick Caul 😷 (@caulmick) October 6, 2020
Last Wednesday his government voted by 80 votes to 61 against @SocDems #EndChildPoverty to tackle the shameful statistic of 90,000 children living in consistent poverty long before we ever heard of Covid. #cblive pic.twitter.com/1iGjDSYKFl
The suggestion from the epidemiologist and healthcare body ‘was not thought through’, according to Tánaiste Varadkar. Even though just minutes after the recommendation came to light on Sunday night, and long before NPHET met with ministers to discuss it, government sources were already saying it wouldn’t be accepted.
Vardkar claimed that he acted against the recommendation due to the ‘long term impact of a prolonged second lockdown on people’s mental health’, and without a shred of irony, informed RTÉ’s Clare Byrne that ‘poverty is one of the biggest killers, you know. Unemployment, poverty, mental health…’
Let’s take a quick moment to examine Varadkar’s mental health record, so:
Minister for Health or Social Protection (July 2014 – June 2017)
– Percentage of people with a psychological or emotional condition increased by almost 30 per cent between 2011 and 2016.
– 4th highest suicide rate in the EU for 15-24
– Health Expenditure as a per cent of GDP decreased by 2.5, down to 2004’s level.
– €20 million less for Mental Health services in 2016 budget than expected.
– Almost 3,000 children and adolescents waiting for a first appointment for mental health services. (2017)
– 6,000 children waiting for primary care psychology appointments. (2017)
– No specialist perinatal mental health services outside of Dublin.
– HSE is short 20 per cent of the recommended staff overall.
Taoiseach (June 2017 – June 2020)
– Government accused of ‘misleading the public’ by bragging about €35 million for mental health services, when in reality it was just €15M in the 2018 budget. This is 5.7 per cent of the overall health budget, in comparison to 13 per cent in the UK and 11 per cent in Canada and New Zealand.
– By October 2019, €55M allocated in the Budget of that year for mental health services, had still not yet been released to the HSE.
– Two thirds of the mental health funding increase in budget 2020, went towards pay increases.
– The third-lowest number of psychiatric beds per head of population in the EU.
– Suicide rate among Travellers was six times that of the general population.
This would be too long a list if I were to even attempt to include the deaths and mental health damage of austerity, wealth inequality, homelessness and destitution imposed on Irish people by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour and the Greens (with the support of the EU) over the past decade, because after all, ‘poverty is one of the biggest killers’. And even longer still if I was to consider the sudden outpouring of mental health consideration from the Tories, DUP or Sinn Féin, who rule over the occupied 6 counties, where you’re twice as likely to commit suicide than in the rest of the UK, and significantly more likely than the South.
Far right groups have also been trying to equate suicide rates with Covid-19 deaths, to justify putting business before public health. ‘We must also ensure that our country can meet the mental health needs of those struggling in this crisis’, says Trump in a recent White House Statement, while Ben Gilroy and Vin Byrne from Yellow Vests Ireland / Health Freedom Ireland have been distributing false information about suicide rates and claiming Covid-19 is ‘not even an epidemic’. We’ve all seen Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters lead similar pro-business performances against Covid-19 throughout the year as they attempted to ‘defend’ the Mental Health Act 2001 and end the emergency eviction ban through a High Court appeal.
Ibec and every collective of hospitality bosses have also taken to the bandwagon, inserting the term ‘mental health’ before ‘the economy’, as if to dress up their only consistent concern – making money.
Last month we saw the return of hundreds waiting on trolleys in hospitals, yet Varadkar rejected NPHET’s predictions that hospitals and ICU’s were about to be overwhelmed as it was ‘not shared by the CEO of the HSE.’
There’s obvious concerns about the trends on #COVID19. But we also know the impacts of severe & regular restrictions in society on the public health, wellbeing, mental health and the economy. Level 5 recommendation to Government has to be considered in this context too. @HSELive— Paul Reid (@paulreiddublin) October 5, 2020
HSE CEO, Paul Reid, has a masters in Business Administration from Trinity College Dublin and has bounced around public sector departments for decades. He is a pencil pusher, not a healthcare professional. Just to clarify how irrelevant the irresponsible hot-takes of a HSE civil servant are, here’s a recent job description for a CEO in the public service:
“The CEO will guide strategic and operational engagement. The CEO will bring vision, strategic leadership and effective management. The CEO will develop effective external stakeholder relationships and engage strategically with senior decision-makers to support effective development.”
Welcome to the greatest show in the land, it’s time for us all to be cheered up. The performers have had the opportunity to address the mental health crisis for decades but have decided now, like magic, when there’s a chance public health may be put before profits, is the time to do it. The conservatives, evangelical Christians, neo-liberals, YouTube ‘Truthers’, shareholders, CEOs and capitalist clowns of all shades line up to show us how much they really cared about mental health this entire time.