The Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler has said she will be calling for the reinstatement of a HSE National Director for Mental Health following a review into services in South Kerry.
Ms Butler told the Dáil she believed the post is “essential” in driving fundamental reforms needed across the State’s mental health system, “not least in our child and youth mental health services”.
Ms Butler said to be “frank and honest”, she has been unsuccessful in reinstating the post to date but does have the support of the health minister and Taoiseach and had discussed it with them on Tuesday night.
The review, published by the HSE on Wednesday, examined the treatment of more than 1,300 young people who attended the South Kerry Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) over a four-year period.
The review found that hundreds of children received “risky” treatment from a doctor and significant harm was caused to 46 of them. The risks involved in the treatment by the doctor included sleepiness, dulled feelings, slowed thinking and serious weight gain and distress, according to the review.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said there will be a full nationwide audit of compliance with Camhs operational guidelines by all teams.
Ms Butler said she would be staying in “close contact” with the HSE on the implementation of recommendations set out in the report.
She also said the general scheme of a Bill to amend the Mental Health Act contains a new part specifically dedicated to the care and treatment of children and provides for the extension of the Mental Health Commission’s system of regulation, registration and inspection to all community services.
She said she hopes to introduce the Bill to the Dáil “as early as possible this year”.
Ms Butler said the scale of challenges faced in terms of the prevalence of mental health difficulties among children and young people living in Ireland, "in addition to the mounting pressures experienced by our mental health services is significant".
Ms Butler said the report showed despite the progress of recent years, services failed children and young people in Kerry.
She said all measures will be taken to ensure that such “an extreme failure which occurred at multiple levels of the system over a protracted period of time does not happen again”.
Over 50 TDs made statements on youth mental health.
Sinn Féin TD Mark Ward said the "draconian practice" of admitting children to adult psychiatric facilities needed to be ended and was "a symptom of a systemic failure on the part of the State".
He called on the Government to legislate for a “zero-option” when it comes to admitting children to adult psychiatric units.
Labour TD Duncan Smith said he hoped that Ms Butler calling for a HSE National Director for Mental Health would result in the post being delivered.
“I don’t know where the resistance to it would be. I would be very surprised if the Minister for Health would be resistant to it,” he said.
“I would be very surprised if there’s budgetary constraints in relation to it, so this has to happen.”
Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said the crisis in youth mental health had accelerated over the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, adding "it is now at a serious crisis point".
“Staff shortages, a rise in demand and poor geographical coverage has created a perfect storm, forcing children to desperately seek help in emergency departments. probably the worst place they could go because there’s simply nowhere else,” she said.
The Dublin North-West TD said in CHO [community healthcare organisation] 9, which covers her constituency, 66 per cent of children had been waiting over three years for an appointment.
She said this was “absolutely shocking” and that the State was “really failing these children”.