Almost 5,000 children waiting on psychology services to be seen this year under new plan

Mary Butler says ‘targeted one off approach for one year only’ will cost €5.5m to clear list

An initiative to ensure that almost 5,000 children and teenagers waiting more than 12 months for psychology services will be seen this year is at an advanced stage, the Minister with responsibility for mental health has said.

Mary Butler said she would put in a "targeted one off approach for one year only" to try and reduce the waiting list of 4,800 children with complex needs requiring services.

Mary Butler also defended the Government’s vaccination programme.

“I’d love to say there’s one for everyone in the audience,” she said. “There will be but it will take time,” and she expected the amount of vaccine to ramp up significantly in April.

She also told the Seanad there is a small cohort of people over 70 who are not registered with a GP and she urged them to make contact with the HSE to ensure they receive the Covid-19 vaccination.

“They may have come into the country or perhaps they chose not to have a GP. They need to contact the HSE as a matter of priority on 1850 241850,” and will be facilitated through their nearest GP.

Ms Butler was speaking in a debate on mental health and said that “I was appalled I’ll be honest when I realised that the (waiting) list for children and adolescent mental health services had got to the level it had”.

She added: “You have to pick and choose what you can do in a very short time. Primary care psychology for children is one I was really bothered about.”

Ms Butler said “I’m working with the HSE on a €5.5 million proposal to target the waiting list of 4,800 children and teenagers, many of whom have quite complex needs, who haven’t been seen by a psychologist and they’re waiting over 12 months.”

She said it would involve the targeted recruitment of staff on a one-year basis. Ms Butler said the money is not an issue. “It’s trying to get the staff, the consultants and dedicated qualified people to get this work done.

“There are very few unemployed psychologists or psychiatrists who do not have a job.”

The Minister added that recruitment takes up to four months. A further 153 new mental health workers will also be appointed and 29 new staff will be recruited for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Cams).

Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway said there were an estimated 1,000 organisations duplicating each other in offering various mental health services.

“We need to review the various organisations around the country in the area of mental health and see if we can bring them together under a united meitheal approach.”

Green party Senator Vincent P Martin asked who the advocate for mental health was in Nphet's (National Public Health Emergency Team) deliberations. He said "people would like to be assured that such advocacy and such a voice is heard, prioritised and being placed front and centre".

Labour Senator Annie Hoey said coping mentally with the pandemic "can be a daily struggle for us all" and there was no shame in feeling tired and low from having to isolate from loved ones.

“The past few weeks has been particularly tough for many of us, and I am not afraid to say I have struggled over that time and found it exceptionally difficult.”

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan criticised the allocation of just €50 million to mental health from the additional €4 billion for health in the budget.

But the Minister said “we have the largest budget in the history of the State for mental health at €1.076 billion”.