In the past year, Ireland has seen an increase in the uptake of private health insurance1. This seems paradoxical, given the enduring impact of the pandemic on income and employment rates. What could be driving this unexpected shift in favour of private health care in Ireland?
Inadequacies in Ireland’s public mental health services are not unknown. A 2006 health policy document, A Vision for Change,2 revealed several shortcomings to be addressed in services, however, they still exist today. Continued underfunding of the mental health sector has contributed to the lack of improvement, and these gaps have only worsened. Access to services has been delayed for many due to growing waiting lists3 and in 2018, Ireland’s rates of mental illness were one of the highest in Europe.4 Thus, it is clear that current treatment methods available in public services are coming up short. Moreover, the pandemic has only compounded these issues, driving services to a crisis point, which can no longer be ignored. Perhaps this has been the turning point for people in Ireland to take action and invest in their long-term health via private healthcare.
A closer look at private healthcare compared to the current public health system, reveals a number of key advantages. These include quicker times between consultation and treatment commencement, consistency in staffing of treatment teams and access to a wider pool of treatments not otherwise available in public services. For instance, at Smart TMS we begin treatment as quickly as 5 days after an initial enquiry. The median time between initial enquiry and treatment commencement is 17 days to date. Patients are also treated by the same healthcare team, allowing for consistency in care and in building therapeutic relationships. Furthermore, Smart TMS incorporate a holistic approach to patient care, offering additional support in various aspects of wellbeing.
On the other hand, times between consultation to treatment commencement in public mental health services can extend over 3 months for young people5 – a considerable length of time to be without support in serious circumstances. This could lead to a further deterioration in mental state in the waiting period, where previous treatment options may no longer suitable and crisis intervention measures are required. Furthermore, staff shortages have become a chronic issue in public health services, with Ireland reporting the lowest number of Specialist Consultants in the EU, despite the largest number of medical graduates.6 Shortages often lead to reliance on short-term cover, which can impact care continuity and quality. For instance, information can get lost between changing staff and therapeutic relations can become fragmented.
It is clear that public health services are struggling to meet the demands of good quality patient care, with no immediate solutions in sight. The private sector, on the other hand, could be a more reliable option. They have the resources and structures in place to ensure patient care is delivered without compromise.
Overall, the pandemic has brought to light the key issues within mental health services in Ireland. This may have spurred the to shift toward private healthcare utilisation and suggests changing attitudes of the public, in favour of less conventional treatment methods. Private sector services, such as Smart TMS, can offer new innovative treatments, timely interventions and synergised holistic recovery approaches. These elements could bring about the change needed in public mental health services. However, such change cannot occur without sufficient support and funding. Like the people of Ireland, perhaps this could also be the turning point for the government to invest in mental health service reform.
Words kindly written by Rio our Practitioner who has recently re-located from the Dublin clinic to lead the Golders Green clinic in London.
Smart TMS’s Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Irish treatment clinic in Dublin is located at:
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- Health Insurance Authority (HIA), 2020. Market Statistics for Irish Health Insurance. [online] Available at: <https://www.hia.ie/publication/market-statistics> [Accessed 24 August 2021].
- ie. 2006. A Vision for Change. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/999b0e-a-vision-for-change/> [Accessed 24 August 2021].
- ehealthireland.ie. 2021. IPDC Waiting List By Group Hospital – HSE Open Data. [online] Available at: <https://data.ehealthireland.ie/dataset/ipdc-waiting-list-by-group-hospital> [Accessed 24 August 2021].
- europa.eu, 2018. [online] Available at: <https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/default/files/state/docs/2018_healthatglance_rep_en.pdf> [Accessed 24 August 2021].
- Health Service Executive (HSE), 2019. [online] Available at: <https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/4/mental-health-services/camhs/operational-guideline/camhs-operational-guideline-2019.pdf> [Accessed 24 August 2021].
- Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), 2019. Statement: OECD Figures Highlight Ireland’s Consultant Crisis. [online] Available at: <https://www.imo.ie/news-media/news-press-releases/2019/statement-oecd-figures-hi/> [Accessed 24 August 2021].