Children and adolescents in the West are being forced to wait over a year for mental health services.
The latest available figures from HSE West have confirmed that, in September, 583 children and adolescents were waiting for an appointment with mental health services, while 130 had been on the list for over a year.
The figures also showed that those in the West face the longest wait for treatment, with 119 waiting in the South, 23 in northeast Dublin and none in Dublin Mid-Leinster.
The damning statistics came to light amid claims that more than 2,000 children and teenagers are currently awaiting mental health services across the country, with HSE Head of Mental Health Services Martin Rogan warning that there was a limit to how far he could stretch the limited budget “before it snaps”.
Declan Breen, western spokesperson with the Psychiatric Nurses Association, said that one of the saddest aspects of the waiting times was that “the quickest way to get off the list is to turn 18”, highlighting that early intervention is crucial for this age group.
“These appointments can also highlight whether there might be some difficult family circumstances, which would lead into slow rates of recovery,” he said.
Mr Breen added that a state-of-the-art children’s mental health service at Merlin Park was ideal for tackling the issue but was not operating to full capacity due to the HSE recruitment embargo.
“Once you have the staff, you can achieve anything. This isn’t someone working in a warehouse where you can’t get your product out on time; these are people we are talking about, these are children. You can’t get something more precious than looking after the State’s children, particularly with the history that Ireland has.”
A spokesperson for HSE West said it had been improving access to services in recent years, with a “major decrease” of 22 per cent in the waiting list between March and September 2012. They added that there were an “unprecedented number of highly publicised tragedies that exponentially increased the number of referrals to the service”.
“Nationally over 16,000 children and young people use the service every year. This is an increase of 17 per cent on the numbers of people using the service, whilst there has been a decrease in the waiting list. This improved level of service is due to additional resources allocated to CAMHS, which included facilities and staff coming into the service and is also reflective of new ways of working, including increased flexibility within the service.”
Meanwhile, a meeting will take place between the Psychiatric Nurses Association and HSE West officials tomorrow in relation to proposals to close the Toghermore House residential centre.
The 18-bed facility came under threat in December when a report showed shortfalls in relation to fire and safety at the Tuam centre and HSE West revealed it was considering relocating the residents to another part of the service.
However, the proposal has been met with outrage in the local area, with a huge turnout for a candlelit vigil and action meeting in Tuam at the weekend. Toghermore House was bequeathed to HSE Mental Health Services by the local Burke family and Mr Breen said many would see it as “a personal insult” if the facility was left derelict.
“I was really heartened to see the reaction from the people of Tuam; they are not going to let this one go. These residents are from Tuam so why would you send them away to Roscommon or Galway, away from their family and friends?”
“It has to be said that, unfortunately, mental health issues are still something that we are not supposed to talk about, even though every family in Ireland is affected by it. The rate is very similar to that of cancer but you wouldn’t talk about 16 cancer survivors in the same way that these residents are being treated.”
Mr Breen said the residents may have to be readmitted to a “formal mental hospital” in order to be relocated, a prospect he branded “absolutely criminal”. He said the affected residents do not suffer from ongoing mental illness and said that cost-cutting was the obvious motive behind the HSE’s attempt to close the centre.
“It is the most opportunistic way of, in their view, saving money. The HSE said on several occasions that this is not a funding issue but clearly, it is a funding issue. In fairness to the local mental health association, they said they wouldn’t be silent to any financial requirements that will arise in the refurbishment so the HSE doesn’t even have that excuse.”