United Call for Mental Health Strategy To Include Firm Commitments on Counselling

Political parties and civic society are united in a call to the Minister for Health to fix the Mental Health Strategy to ensure timely access to counselling for all who need it. Sara Boyce  |  Fri Mar 26 2021
The Minister for Health, Robin Swann, should act now to make the changes that are necessary to the Mental Health Strategy
"Having someone to talk to and to listen to you is a big spoonful of medicine. When you speak out your pain it helps to remove it". Patricia Lauri Curran, 123GP campaigner

In the space of just a few short weeks, 123GP campaigners have built huge momentum behind their campaign for Timely Access to Counselling for All.

That momentum and widespread support is reflected in the Consensus Statement endorsed by all of the Assembly’s political parties ( with the exception of the UUP), as well as by dozens of civic society organisations.

In mid-February the 123GP campaign, with PPR’s support, launched an interactive map which demonstrated a huge variation in the accessibility and availability of mental health counselling between the five health trusts and the eighteen Assembly constituencies.

The map highlights what is, in effect, a hugely unfair postcode lottery with rates of counselling provision varying across Assembly constituencies from 100% of GP practices in East Antrim to only 40% of GP practices in West Tyrone.

The issue has led to widespread media coverage, including on BBC NI Good Morning Ulster and Radio Foyle, Q Radio, the Belfast Telegraph, the Irish News and regional media from Co. Down up to Co. Fermanagh.

People from every single Assembly constituency acted, using our interactive map to send 650 emails to their MLAs.

In response, MLAs tabled 21 separate Assembly questions to the Minister for Health on the issue, including MLAS from the DUP, the SDLP, Sinn Féin, Alliance, the Green Party and People Before Profit.

The Assembly’s All-Party Group on Mental Health wrote a letter of support for the campaign to the Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA and the All-Party Group on Suicide Prevention has also committed its support.

The campaign's recommendations to improve mental health services have also been raised directly with the Minister at the Assembly’s Health Committee.

A series of blogs and video testimonies were contributed by campaign supporters, including powerful personal stories, to highlight the urgent need to address this issue in the 10-year Mental Health Strategy.

The Consensus on Counselling statement sets out clearly the key commitments required. These include:

  • ensuring that mental health counselling is available to all, regardless of where they live
  • nobody having to wait longer than 28 days for a routine appointment
  • the role of local community-based providers to be recognised and resourced.

This consensus has been endorsed by the Alliance Party, the DUP, the Green Party, People Before Profit, SDLP and Sinn Féin. It has also been endorsed by dozens of civic society organisations, including Action Mental Health, Aware, UNISON CVS Branch, UNITE, Rural Community Network, Women’s Resource and Development Agency, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the National Counselling Society.

All of this has been achieved in less than a month – such is the strength of feeling across our society that the new mental health strategy must include a clear commitment to provide timely access to counselling for all who need it.

The Minister for Health, Robin Swann, now has the chance now to make a difference, to act on what he has heard and to make the changes that are necessary to the Mental Health Strategy.

Sara Boyce works as an organiser with the #123GP mental health rights campaign. She has worked with PPR since 2016, both as an organiser and also as a policy worker across a range of campaigns supported by PPR. Prior to joining PPR Sara worked on both sides of the Irish border with a range of community and human rights organisations, including with Traveller groups and children and young people’s organisations.

She also worked for over a decade from the mid 1980s to the late 1990s as a Speech and Language Therapist, before undertaking a Masters in Equality Studies in UCD in 2006. Sara is passionate about promoting the power of poetry and other forms of creativity in challenging oppression and inequality at all levels.


‘Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution and raising consciousness.’ (Alice Walker)