Cost of referrals to external counselling increase by over 2500% since 2015

Cost of referrals to external counselling increase by over 2500% since 2015

UCD spent €218,715 on referrals to external counsellors in the 2018-2019 academic year, an increase of €211,115, or over 2500%, since external referrals began in the 2015-2016 academic year. This increase is despite the hiring of two new counselling staff within the service, bringing the total number of counselling staff to 13. 

Information requested under the Freedom of Information Act shows that the total cost budget within the Student Health and Counselling Service for the 2018-2019 academic year was €808,923. This is a decrease from the previous year, which totalled at €834,902. The number of staff employed in the service as a whole increased from 27 to 30 between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years, with two of these being new counselling staff and one new member of the medical staff. 

Mags D’Arcy, Communications and Marketing with Student Services, speaking to The University Observer, explained that “two new counsellors were hired for service development purposes ; specifically for triaging students whilst auditing case management load, referrals, enhancing service delivery.”

The number of students who attended psychiatric consultations within the Health and Counselling Service came to 436 in the 2018-2019 academic year. This is a decrease from the 2017-2018 figure of 467. The total student population of UCD increased from 29,856 in 2017-2018, to 30,428 in 2018-2019. In the 2015-2016 academic year, the number of students attending the Counselling Service was 387, with a total student population of 28,189.

Ms D’Arcy also explained the increase in spending on external referrals, despite the hiring of two new staff members; “The hiring of new staff did not mean that there would be an instant drop in referrals to the community providers, as the new hires were working on aspects of the service such as; case management, service delivery case complexity analysis, staff development etc.”

UCD Student Health and Counselling began offering vouchers for free referrals to external counsellors in the 2015-2016 academic year. In 2018, The University Observer reported that students who went to the service seeking an appointment were offered a “subsidy scheme from whereby students were given €250 subsidy amount toward counselling” or were given the option of joining a waiting list for in-house counselling. 

This subsidy scheme was brought in after years of long waiting lists that extended to 6 to 8 weeks. The scheme has remained in place since then. The amount spent on subsidising external referrals in 2015-2016 was €7,600. 

Ms D’Arcy also clarified that one of the new members of staff hired as part of the Counselling Service was “a new Head of Counselling” who was “working on areas of the service that are not necessarily one-to-one client sessions” from their initial hire at the end of term time. This work included “case management development and protocols, new innovative areas of support, staff development within the team and overall service delivery and case complexity analysis.”

While there was a decrease in psychiatric consultations between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years, the documents also showed there was an increase in the doctor and nurses consultations. There were an additional 655 doctors consultations, and 581 nurses consultations. One new member of medical staff was hired in the 2018-2019 academic year. 

When asked about the increase in external referrals, despite an increase in psychiatric staff and a decrease in the number of students receiving in-house psychiatric consultations, Ms D’Arcy told the Observer; “Demand for counselling has grown year on year. As a demand lead service provider, we are committed to scaling and meeting this demand by the best means appropriate, this in turn requires external referrals at peak threshold times of the academic year.” 

In the 2017-2018 academic year, UCDSU rejoined Nightline, a student run service that operates until 2:30am each night, following a University Observer report that revealed that waiting lists in the Health and Counselling Service were the highest they had been in years. This service is still operating during term times. The Welfare Officer at the time, Eoghan Mac Domhnaill, also cited Pieta House and Samaritans as services students could avail of while they waited for an appointment.

Speaking to The University Observer, UCDSU Welfare Officer, Úna Carroll said: “Understandably, UCD seems to have no choice but to refer students to external resources as they do not have the capacity to look after them on campus. This is not for want of not trying, it is down to the lack of investment being put into the holistic health and wellbeing of our own students.

“Last year we saw in the USI Mental Health Survey that 32.2 percent of third-level students suffered from mental health difficulties, yet we are increasingly out-sourcing supports for our own students, who only urge to be accommodated on their own college's campus. Let us not forget that students based in Smurfit do not have access to an on-campus GP, nevermind a counsellor. Of course, the staff of the counselling service only want to be able to accommodate the needs of our students in-house, but lack of funding for internal developments leaves them placing their students in the care of others, at a very obvious and unnecessary cost."

Student Advisors, Chaplains, and your Welfare Officer are available to give you more information on the support you can avail of in UCD.

Pieta House 24hr line: 1800 247 247, FREE TEXT 'HELP' to 51444

Samaritans 24hr line: 116 123, Text 087 260 90 90 90, email 

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 77 88 88

LGBTQ+ Dublin Helpline: 1890 929 539, National Line: 1800 929 538

Drug & Alcohol Helpline: 1800 459 459, email