The Chief Executive of Mental Health Reform has called for an immediate publication of the refresh of the Government's 'Vision for Change' plan for mental health services. 

Fiona Coyle said if the public health crisis is not to give way to a national mental health crisis, it is imperative that the Government prepare for a surge in demand for mental health services and this should be reflected in the prospective programme for government.

In a statement released this afternoon, Ms Coyle said that the Covid-19 pandemic has clearly placed a significant burden on people's mental health and well-being, and that this will continue into the future.

"To support preparation and planning to protect people's mental health in the months ahead, the Government must immediately publish the refresh of A Vision for Change, Ireland's new national mental health policy, and appoint an implementation group for this policy, capable of developing a mental health recovery plan for the country.

"It is also essential that the Government commit to protecting mental health funding and invest in services so that they are quick and easy to access for people, if and when they need them," she added.

It emerged earlier that mental health services in Ireland could be provided remotely to a large number of people under a new ten-year policy plan.

It is understood that the unpublished draft policy suggests this could include psychiatry services, cognitive behaviour therapy and counselling.

The updated Vision for Change plan says this could allow for much greater access to both mild and acute mental health services.

The plan, which is likely to be discussed as part of the government formation talks this week, also aims to place more emphasis on care in the community.

It would require funding of an extra €10 million annually beginning next year and an Implementation Office would be established to oversee it.

It says better supports around employment, housing and education are key to getting positive outcomes for people with mental ill-health.

A review of the last policy plan identified the recruitment of specialist staff as being among the biggest challenges facing the service.

It also found that there was poor alignment between services and access was limited.

The new plan will seek to get the health sector to work more closely with other government departments and agencies.

A cross-party group of TDs wrote to Minister for Health Simon Harris last week calling on him to immediately publish the updated Vision for Change document.

Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly has said that under the new plan people would be able to access a consultant psychiatrist via a screen in an emergency department who could assess, diagnose prescribe and admit a patient if necessary. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, he said you could basically access the screen on a machine like a blood pressure cart and this consultant psychiatrist might be covering a number of sites, for example Cork Tralee and Tipperary hospitals.

While the option of attending a counsellor face-to-face is still there, he said many people might be slow to do so and may prefer not to do so and may be happier to do so via an iPad anonymously.

Minister Daly said they are trying to have that support available to people 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when they need it.