Health Minister Robin Swann has announced the establishment of new grant schemes for cancer and mental health charities and a Carers Support Fund.
The Cancer Charities Support Fund and Mental Health Support Fund will each receive £10m, while £4m has been allocated to the Carers Support Fund.
The Minister has also allocated £15m to Health Trusts to boost the support available for healthcare workers across Northern Ireland.
The allocations have been funded from one-off Covid emergency monies made available to the Department of Health. “I would of course love to be able to allocate further funding, on a recurrent basis, to all these areas. But as ever, available recurrent funding is not keeping up with levels of demand and need,” the Minister said.
The Cancer Charities Support Fund will enable charities to access funding to support cancer services in the community.
The Health Minister stated: “I acknowledge that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on cancer services and expect that this funding will provide and expand much need support for patients and families including, psychological support and counselling; improved access to support services; and delivery of cancer rehabilitation programmes and enhanced palliative care.
“I will shortly be publishing a Cancer Recovery Plan to stabilise cancer services as we continue to emerge from the most recent surge period. Cancer services were already worryingly stretched before Covid so the plan will also set key actions needed to put them on a long-term sustainable footing.”
The Mental Health Support Fund will provide grants to charity organisations who provide interventions to improve the population’s mental health.
“The COVID-19 impact on mental ill health lags behind physical health, with the mental health surge now starting. In-patient mental health services are experiencing extreme demand and have never been under more pressure. The Mental Health Support Fund will help during the increase in demand by easing pressures on statutory services.
“The Mental Health Support Fund will be open for a variety of charitable organisations that provide help and support for those who need help with their mental health. It is expected it will increase access to counselling and talking therapies and it will provide support for individuals, families and carers to improve emotional wellbeing and mental health through self-help.
“The new Mental Health Strategy I intend to publish later this year will further enhance the role of the community and voluntary sector in improving mental health in Northern Ireland. The Fund is a good starting point for this work.”
The new Carers Support Fund will provide support for charities working for and with carers. “The debt the health service and wider society owes to unpaid carers cannot be overstated,” the Minister stressed. “Without care provided by family members and friends, many vulnerable people would have been plunged into a full scale crisis over the past 12 months. This Support Fund will provide practical support and acknowledgement to what is such an important sector.”
In addition to these new funds, a further allocation of £15 million has also been made available to support staff within Trusts. This funding is intended to provide both general support and specific support to nursing staff.
“The money will be split evenly across the five local Trusts. I have asked that a significant focus be given to supporting the practical day to day needs of staff such as improving comfort in the workplace and making sure funding is available for staff that want to undertake additional education or training. It’s the least we can do to support staff that have already given so much over the last 13 months,” Mr Swann added.