Funding to tackle suicide in Derry handed back

Questions have been raised over why £300,000 allocated for a Foyle suicide prevention initiative was handed back to the NI Executive unspent.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 12:46 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 3:21 pm
Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has asked the Department of Health for clarification on why £0.3 million was returned under ‘reduced requirements’, as detailed in a statement from the new Finance Minister Conor Murphy earlier this week.

Mr Durkan described the underspend revelation as “mind-boggling”, coming as it does, he said, at a time when local crisis services were struggling for funding.

He said: “Granted £300,000 is a drop in the ocean in what is a significant challenge within this region- but would have been a welcome drop for local charities and individuals here, particularly the Crisis Intervention Centre, whose future is currently in jeopardy, dependent on securing funds.

“It must be determined where exactly this £0.3 million was allocated and as to why it remained unused. This money would’ve meant an awful lot to local mental health initiatives and the individuals who avail of them. It is mind-boggling as to how this oversight occurred. I hope the Department can shed light on this matter and additionally look favourably upon supporting the continuation of our vital Crisis Intervention Centre.”

A Department of Finance spokesperson said yesterday: “This funding was allocated under the Programme for Government transformation fund. The Department of Health was unable to use the funding for the purpose it was allocated for and it was therefore returned to the Executive for reallocation against its wider priorities.”

At present funding for Derry’s Council-led pilot Crisis Intervention Service is due to run out in March despite increasing numbers of people being helped by the service. Mr Durkan said it was his understanding that a funding request from the local Council to keep the project running is currently under consideration by the Health and Social Care Board. “Given the very welcome pledges from the new Executive last week on mental health and suicide prevention provisions, I would hope that the continuation and indeed the extension of such crisis centres, would be prioritised,” he said.

The Crisis Intervention Service began operating in Derry in January 2019 as a non-medical support service for those who find themselves unable to cope and in urgent need of intervention.

It came about as a direct result of an extensive grass roots movement in the city highlighting the need for immediately accessible services for people experiencing mental health difficulties and related crises. The call was backed by local politicians, charities, medical experts, and various organisations.

The service is being delivered by support organisation Extern and currently runs from 8pm on Thursday evening through to 8am on Sunday morning, providing “vital assistance to the emergency services at the busiest times”.

It is hoped that following a review over the coming weeks that the service will secure funding to enable it to become permanent and extend to seven days a week.

Mr Durkan said: “I remain committed to tackling the issue of poor mental health and that means ensuring that vital capital is directed and utilised where it’s needed most.”

Earlier this week the Foyle MLA wrote to the Department of Health asking for clarity around the underspend in relation to the ‘Foyle Suicide Project’.

And after a statement from Finance Minister Conor Murphy on Public Expenditure and the January Monitoring Round, in which details of funding handed back for reallocation were revealed, Mr Durkan said to the Minister: “I see that £0·3 million for a Foyle suicide prevention project is being handed back. I am not exactly sure how that came about — I would not be surprised if the Minister is not either — but, given the very welcome pledges from the new Executive last week on mental health and suicide provision, can I be so bold as to ask the Minister for a commitment to consider favourably any future bids for that project?”

Mr Murphy responded: “Clearly, mental health is a key priority. I am not sure, as the Member anticipated, of the specific reason for the reduced requirement for that project, but I can certainly try to get him some answers and write to him on that.

“There is a strong sense of priority right across the Executive, and mental health in general, trying to improve services and trying to make a real impact on the issue, which is becoming increasingly important across society, featured in our discussion last week.

“Although I am sure that he would like me to, I cannot make for certain a commitment on that specific project, but if it fits within the overall ambit of mental health services, there is a commitment across the Executive to try to support them and to allocate as much resource as we can to them in the time ahead.”

The Department of Health has not yet responded to a request for clarification on what the Foyle Suicide Project money was supposed to be used for.

*The Lifeline helpline can be contacted for free on 0808 808 8000. Samaritans can be contacted on Freephone 116 123. Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111.