Concern raised over 4% drop in youth mental health staff

Biggest drop in CAMHS staff in Cos Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Louth and Meath

There has been a fall in the number of staff employed in the HSE’s youth mental health services, with 26 fewer employed in September compared to the beginning of the year, new figures show.

There were 623 staff employed in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in January 2018 but nine months later this had dropped by 4 per cent to 597.

The biggest drop in staff was recorded in the community health organisation (CHO) area covering Cos Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Louth and Meath, which had 19 fewer workers in September (down from 103 to 84).

This was followed by the CHO area covering Cos Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford and south Tipperary, where staff numbers dropped from 58 to 49 over the same period.


Separately, the number of children admitted to adult mental units across the State stood at 65 as of September.

The Mental Health Commission noted in its 2017 annual report the inability of CAMHS workers to admit children after hours, "thereby forcing" them to look to adult units instead.

Such a situation, it said, was a “clear breach of the human rights and dignity of the child” and had remained a concern for “many years”.

The latest HSE figures were supplied to Fianna Fáil's mental health spokesman James Browne in response to a parliamentary question.

Mr Browne described the fall in the number of staff employed in CAMHS as “extraordinary”.

"The total number of CAMHS staff is still barely over half what was recommend in the flagship 2006 policy, A Vision for Change. It needs to be tackled with urgency," he said.

The Wexford TD also said the increasing numbers of children being admitted to adult mental health units in recent years “shows that standards in this area have regressed after improving for a number of years”.

In its response to Mr Browne, the HSE said while it is committed to minimising the number of admissions of children to adult units, “in exceptional circumstances, it will continue to be necessary”.

“Children are admitted to adult units only after efforts to place them in a child and adolescent in-patients units are unsuccessful due to capacity or clinical needs,” it said.

“All admissions of young people under the age of 18 years are notified to the Mental Health Commission in accordance with regulations. All such admissions are also notified to a national CAMHS lead manager within mental health.”

A study, entitled The experience of mental health professionals working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Ireland, published earlier this year found that some of those working in CAMHS were "pessimistic" about its future and were frustrated with aspects of how it worked.

It featured interviews with six multidisciplinary professionals including a clinical psychologist, a social worker, and a speech and language therapist, working in CAMHS.

According to the report, there was “a collective feeling of frustration” among interviewees regarding CAMHS as “a numbers game” in which the focus was on seeing and then closing as many cases as possible, and interviewees said this was contributing to staff leaving CAMHS.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times