Children waiting 15 months to see psychologist, committee told

Just 4 of 25 community mental health care teams fully staffed in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon

The Joint Committee on the future of Mental Health Care heard children with mental health difficulties and eating disorders are facing long waits for an appointment with a psychologist in some areas. Photograph: Getty images

The Joint Committee on the future of Mental Health Care heard children with mental health difficulties and eating disorders are facing long waits for an appointment with a psychologist in some areas. Photograph: Getty images

 

Children with mental health difficulties and eating disorders are waiting for more than 15 months for psychology appointments in some areas, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Management from three Community Healthcare Organisations (CHOs) around the country told members of the Joint Committee on the future of Mental Health Care on Thursday that recruitment shortages were creating challenges across all areas, most particularly for consultant and nursing posts.

Addressing TDs and Senators, CHO chief officer for counties Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Cavan and Monaghan John Hayes said provision of child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) was proving particularly challenging in this area.

CAHMS teams in the region had an average of slightly over half of their recommended clinical staff allocation, he said.

Sligo/Leitrim Fine Gael TD Tony McLoughlin remarked that the current situation was a “major concern” with “shocking waiting times” for children with mental health difficulties, including six who have waited over 15 months for a psychology appointment.

Mr Hayes responded that issues had arisen after the area lost its two designated consultant psychologists during the winter of 2016 and 2017, culminating in a child and adolescent mental health waiting list of over 400 by the end of January 2017.

This figure has since fallen to 204, he said, due to the recruitment of two full-time replacement psychologists along with a half-time consultant operating out of Belfast.

Mr Hayes said recruitment of permanent consultants in the mental health had proven to be a “fundamental issue”, adding there was always “some sense of vulnerability” that those employed might move on.

Responding to questioning from Galway-based Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte, the Community Healthcare Organisation chief officer covering counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, Tony Canavan said 21 of 25 community care teams in this area were understaffed.

Mr Canavan said all the area’s CAMHS have gaps, and spoke of the need to provide mental health services in the community given the finite number of child and adolescent beds available.

“That doesn’t fly, there are 21 community teams not adequately staffed. The support isn’t in the community,” Ms Rabbitte replied.

Focussing on a recent report into Roscommon mental health services that was critical of its leadership, a prevalent culture of “negativity and blame” and the return of €17.5 million in unspent funding to the HSE between 2012 and 2014, Mr Canavan acknowledged the findings made for “uncomfortable reading”.

He described the return of funding as an “opportunity lost”, and said issues arising from the report must now be addressed.

Elsewhere, Bernard Gloster the chief officer for healthcare teams across Clare, north Tipperary and Limerick spoke of the “immense challenges” associated with recruiting staff and securing agreement over industrial relations matters.

He pointed out that teams across the midwest were constantly short between 50 and 60 posts, with the heaviest deficit in nursing. He said the 89 acute beds currently available for the region are “very busy”, and said the allocation will have to be “revised” due to recent demographic shifts.