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Galway West Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has called on the government not to put families and children at further risk by cutting funding to the Community Addiction Counselling Service located on Merlin Park Hospital grounds. The service provides treatment and counselling support to children and families suffering from addiction and alcohol problems, a service that is crucial to ensuring that those in society who cannot afford private treatment, costing in region of 9,000 euro per person, receive the help they so desperately need.

‘In 2009 the Merlin Park Community Addiction & Mental Health Counselling Service dealt with between 800 and 900 individual cases, and with numbers increasing in 2010, worsened by the recession, along with a reduction in staff levels, Galway-based GPs, social workers and probation officers can no longer rely on the service. GPs in particular are tearing their hair out. They are getting little to no back-up for patients with alcohol problems. Similarly too, the continuation of this service is crucial for social workers involved in child protection cases. Regular attendance at this clinic is often a precondition for at risk parents to enable them to keep their children. As matters stand, fears grow that the service could be wiped out altogether, with disastrous consequences for families and children’.

‘The level of service is so severely impacted at the moment that GPs requests for addiction counsellors to work with those suffering from alcohol problems are merely received and stamped. For a long time now there has been a 6 to 9 month waiting list for families seeking to avail of the alcohol treatment service. But we ignore this problem at our peril. A poorly resourced addiction counselling and mental health service risks another Roscommon case, where it is well known that two parents with known drinking problems were jailed for the sexual abuse and neglect of their six children.’

“Frontline services such as these are critical to preventing similar tragedies from occurring in the future” stated Senator Healy Eames, adding “this service must be seen as an investment in families at risk”.

The Senator has discussed the issue with Minister Maloney and has asked that the government through HSE West commit to the continued funding of the facility, along with a pledge to replace retired staff to help ease the workload currently being dealt with by the Service. In particular, the loss of an addiction counsellor due to a retirement in the Clifden area is widely felt.

I am awaiting a response from Minister Maloney. Continued resourcing and staff replacement will go a long way to ensuring not just the physical and mental well being of our people, but the safety and security of our children.

Fidelma Healy Eames