The €50 million extension which brought the student and sports centres together under one roof remains unfinished almost four years after its opening. The oversubscribed Student Health and Counselling Services were, according to the original plan for the centre, set to move into a new facility on the third floor.
- 130 on waiting list for a counselling appointment at time of going to print
- Two week waiting list for doctor and counselling appointments
- Options being examined include external relief for counselling service
- Services need more staff but have nowhere to house them
This however has not materialised, and both remain in in situ above the students’ union corridor in the old student centre. The third floor space in the student centre extension sits above a corridor which houses meeting rooms, society offices, and campus media outlets including the University Observer.
It is currently in an unfinished state awaiting fit out – the cost of which is as high as €1 million, according to Director of Student Services & Facilities Dominic O’Keefe. Speaking to the College Tribune, O’Keefe stated that the new medical centre was planned at a time when there was an intention to increase staffing levels in the Student Centre, but that this has not been realised as intended due to the difficult economic climate.
According to a publication produced by the architects of the centre, Fitzgerald Kavanagh and Partners, the purpose built medical centre was to offer a space in which “the highly specialised medical, psychological and psychiatric needs of the student body can be addressed in an atmosphere of confidence and clinical rigour.”
While there is no concrete plan as to what the space will play host to, it is certain that the Student Health and Counselling Services are no longer being considered for a move. This is despite students currently experiencing a two-week waiting period for non-emergency appointments with both doctors and counsellors.
O’Keefe insists that the Student Health and Counselling Services will receive investment in the form of staff and that it is hoped to introduce an additional GP to the facility by the beginning of the 2016/20217 academic year in September. This, he hopes, will help in reducing the waiting time for an appointment to four days. He also spoke of plans to convert a corner office in the old student centre which will be made available for the use of the counselling service.
As to why the move will not take place as intended, O’Keefe cited a need to balance spending with the provision of services, stating “If we moved the medical centre from where it is to where it was planned to go, having spent a million Euro, what would change?”
Speaking on the matter, UCDSU Welfare Officer Clare O’Connor quoted as 130 the number of students currently awaiting an appointment to see a counsellor. She praised the work of both the Student Health and Counselling services in maximising the service available the despite limitations as being “absolutely brilliant”
She added that she hoped to see an expansion of the services offered, particularly in Counselling, but that space limitations are proving difficult in making this a reality.
An assessment of the services provided to UCD students is set to be undertaken in association with Headstrong, a “non-profit organisation supporting young people’s mental health in Ireland.” This assessment is expected to make a number of recommendations to university authorities and the students’ union which can be made to improve students’ access to mental health supports.
O’Connor also mentioned a service the organisation offer, ‘Jigsaw’, as being something which may be employed in UCD to alleviate the strain on services. Presently, students have the option of approaching a student advisor, the welfare office, or the counselling service when in need of mental health supports. She sees ‘Jigsaw’ as operating somewhere in between the advisors and counselling service by pointing students towards external supports which may be available quicker than an appointment in UCD.
Also speaking to the College Tribune, Dr. Sandra Tighe, Medical Director of the Student Health Service, added that while the SHS and Counselling Service do their best to provide as comprehensive a service to students as possible, that “the money’s just not there” to meet demand.
She described the monetary gap which needs to be bridged in order to meet staffing demands as being somewhere in the region of €30,000. She also pointed out that while the SHS has had its budget reduced in line with all other university departments and services since the onset of the financial crisis, that it had managed for the most part to maintain funding levels by introducing a consultation charge, currently €25.
As was reported in the College View, DCU’s Student newspaper last week, UCD’s charges are relatively high in comparison to other universities. A GP consultation currently costs €20 in DCU, however its student welfare officer, Domhnaill Harkin, recently announced his intention to see this lowered to €15.
Meanwhile, Maynooth University, Trinity College Dublin and NUI Galway students can avail of a vsit to their GP services at no cost.
Dr. Tighe added that “For a relatively small investment, we can provide much more” but that precisely what the SHS and Counselling Services require is difficult to define as it’s not certain what level of cover the services could or should be providing to students. This sentiment was echoed by O’Connor who added that there is some trepidation on the part of UCD to provide services which may also be provided by the HSE.
According to figures produced by UCD, student numbers based in Belfield stood at 20,704 in 2010/2011. During the 2014/2015 academic year, this number had risen to 29,751 with facilities and capital available to the Student Health and Counselling Services remaining much the same.
- Seán O’Reilly, Editor
This article originally appeared in Volume 29, Issue 11. Published April 12th 2016.