Ombudsman calls for increased mental health funding

Niall Muldoon says he is ‘disappointed’ with lack of progress on emergency services

Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon said the increased number of complaints received by his office highlighted “a continued failure by public bodies to put the best interests of children at the centre of their decisions.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon said the increased number of complaints received by his office highlighted “a continued failure by public bodies to put the best interests of children at the centre of their decisions.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

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The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, has called for increased funding for children’s mental health services after his 2017 report showed rising complaint levels.

The report, published yesterday, stated that the office received 1,755 complaints last year- 57 of which regarded children’s mental health.

Mr Muldoon said the increased number of complaints highlighted “a continued failure by public bodies to put the best interests of children at the centre of their decisions.”

His office was “disappointed” by the lack of progress for children with mental health issues trying to access emergency services, he said.

“We need better mental health support in the emergency sector...there is inadequate psychiatric cover across the country,” the Ombudsman said.

The comments came after the office examined a complaint last year about a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) centre that had admitted up to 60 children presenting with suicidal behaviour to hospital for several days while they waited for a consultation.

“I would urge the HSE to address problems with consultant psychiatrists out-of-hour contracts to ensure children have access to the services they need, when they need them,” the Ombudsman said in the report.

There are currently only 70 consultant psychiatrists that provide out-of-hours cover nationally.

The report found that numerous counties provide no out-of-hours cover including Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford.

“Our awareness of children’s mental health is certainly growing but we need to have a parallel level of support for people when they do come forward,” the Ombudsman told The Irish Times.

The report recommended liaison teams be available in acute hospitals around the country- not just in children’s hospitals.

A broadening of a national programme- which provides clinical nurses to assess self harm cases- to include children under the age of 16 was also recommended.

Muldoon said he also recommends that therapists be available in primary and secondary schools across the country.

The Ombudsman added that “There is no shortage of awareness at government level, but we need to know how much is being spent on children’s mental health and where.

“Six per cent of the budget is allocated for mental health but that includes adult health and we need to break it down. Once you know what you’re spending it on than you can tell whether it’s working or not”

He also wished to highlight the importance of fencing this funding.

“There was a situation a few years ago when €30 million was threatened to be turned into a hospital budget that was meant for mental health and that shouldn’t be happening when children aren’t getting assessed in a timely fashion”.

“We need to make sure that all the funding possible is being used in the right way”

Additionally, the Ombudsman called for a higher funding budget next year for mental health services, highlighting that Ireland’s mental health budget is only half of the European average.

The latest figures from the HSE show that 2,615 children are waiting to be seen by CAMHS. 1,403 of those have been waiting for over three months. and 356 of the children have been waiting over a year.

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