Mental health of young at risk over cuts, HSE warns

 

Mental health services for young people are coming under increasing strain, the State official in charge has warned, with figures showing more than 2,000 children and adolescents on waiting lists for appointments.

Martin Rogan, head of mental health services at the HSE, said he understood the reality of the economic situation but, he added: “There is a limit to how far I can stretch this before it snaps.”

It was vital that help was delivered to young people at an early stage of their problems, he said. A Government decision to cut guidance counselling in schools in 2011 had created a “vulnerability”.

Mr Rogan was speaking to The Irish Times against the backdrop of a 17 per cent increase in referrals in the year to last September.

Acute gaps

The HSE’s latest figures show gaps in services are particularly acute outside of Dublin and its commuter belt. Some 130 children and adolescents were waiting for more than a year for an appointment in the HSE West region last September and a further 119 in the south, compared to 23 in Dublin northeast and none in Dublin Mid-Leinster.

Mr Rogan, who has held the post since 2005, said: “When you give resources you get good outcomes. When you deny resources you get late interventions. You get people who are already severely labelled who will end up having a lifelong mental illness that could have been avoided.” He said extra staff was being added to the services while others had been drafted in from adult services and resources were being reworked to cover needs.

The mental health sector overall has seen a drop in staff numbers and associated funding through voluntary redundancies. “It would be very easy for me to break down crying and say, ‘I don’t have enough resources, I don’t have enough beds, I don’t have enough staff’,” he said.

“This could be a lot better but we are heading in the right direction. We’ll go as fast as resources will let us go.”

Millions used elsewhere

Last week it emerged that millions of euro ring-fenced for suicide prevention and mental health services had been used by the HSE in 2012 to tackle cost overruns in other parts of the health services.

Nonetheless, some funding is being put into new inpatient beds for young people. A 20-bed unit in Galway, a 20-bed unit in Cork and 12-bed and eight-bed units in Dublin have opened in the last year.

Two more units are planned to open in Dublin while the new children’s hospital and a special unit for adolescent offenders will also have such beds. These new beds will go towards reducing the numbers of young people being placed in adult psychiatric units. Between January and September last year, 75 young people were placed in adult units.

Mr Rogan said 150 new staff would be in place this month to increase the number of community teams. This month will also see guidelines issued to help teachers deal with children with problems.

He also stressed the need for different levels of care for young people with problems rather than pushing them towards the health services.

“If you don’t have a mental illness, a psychiatric service is a very toxic thing. In Ireland, we did that for many years and we had 20,000 people entombed in a system.”