Figures show 3,600 children awaiting psychiatric assessment


THE GOVERNMENT has been accused of neglecting the needs of vulnerable children with mental health problems following an increase in the number of young people waiting for assessments.

Latest official figures show that 3,600 children are waiting to be assessed by psychiatrists. Of this number, more than 1,000 will have to wait more than one year before being seen. The overall figure represents a 15 per cent rise over the last two years.

The HSE figures released to Fine Gael TD David Stanton are the same as those revealed in an unpublished internal report by health authorities which appeared in The Irish Times earlier this year.

That study conceded that there were major gaps in community mental health teams and a serious lack of beds for emergency cases.

Mr Stanton said that there were concerns that the situation would get worse as a result of cutbacks. "It is clear that the Fianna Fáil-led Government and the HSE are failing to meet the needs of children with psychiatric difficulties.

"The large increase in the numbers awaiting assessment also makes it clear that additional staff and resources are urgently needed to address the backlog, and while I welcome the HSE's claim that more staff will be provided, we need assurance from Government that this will be the case."

He added: "Considering that cuts in health and education are already being sneaked out, the thousands of children awaiting psychiatric assessment need firm assurances that they will not be further hit."

A breakdown of figures shows the majority of children have been waiting more than a year. Groups such as the Irish Psychiatric Association have warned that delays in treatment for children with severe mental health difficulties leave young people at a much higher risk of becoming chronically unwell.

The situation is most serious among emergency cases, or children who have severe psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and mania.

The lack of beds is resulting in enormous difficulty accessing treatment in crisis situations, according to health professionals.

The HSE says it is in the process of developing child and adolescent mental health services and estimates that the number of in- patient beds will increase from 12 to 30 shortly. Construction was due to start recently on two new 20-bed units for children and adolescents in Cork and Galway.