Young people waiting to access mental health care at six-year high, IHCA warns

Almost 100,000 children on hospital waiting lists is ‘not good enough’, doctors’ group says

Dr Ike Okafor says the lack of access to treatment was behind an increase in children presenting at his hospital’s emergency department

Dr Ike Okafor says the lack of access to treatment was behind an increase in children presenting at his hospital’s emergency department

 

Almost 100,000 children are on hospital waiting lists, as numbers waiting for mental health services reaches a six-year high, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has warned.

Speaking on behalf of the association, Dr Ike Okafor, consultant in paediatric emergency medicine at Dublin’s Temple Street hospital, said the lack of access to treatment was behind an increase in children presenting at his hospital’s emergency department (ED).

He said there were 97,000 children on a waiting list – one in 12 children – and 37,700 were waiting more than a year for care. Of these, 27,700 were waiting more than 18 months.

Almost 3,000 children were waiting to access child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) – the highest number since 2015 when there were 3,100 children on this list.

Dr Okafor said the figures were “not good enough” and children could not be left to wait for healthcare as delays could have grave, detrimental, long-term impacts.

“No child should have to wait more than six weeks to get any kind of healthcare intervention. Long waiting times are not just an issue for children’s physical or mental health. It’s about their social health as well; often they are not able to play with their peers, they’re not spending time in school and these are really fundamental parts of their lives.”

Children’s mental health was a particular concern and children, who should be accessing primary care psychology or Camhs services were being forced to present to EDs for urgent mental health care.

Pressure points

“There are certain specialities where there are significant pressure points [with] not having enough staff and resources to be able to see patients. Mental health is one clear example of this.

“The pandemic has led to a massive increase in children presenting with acute mental health problems, especially eating disorders and self-harm. A system that was already under pressure, not just in hospitals but in the community, has suddenly gone into crisis mode,” said Dr Okafor.

“Children are waiting longer and longer to see psychologists and psychiatrists and that’s a problem.”

He said a “whole-of-service approach” was needed, including not just recruiting more healthcare professionals, but keeping them also, and ensuring “the necessary physical infrastructure.

“If we improve all these things together, I believe we can deliver the healthcare in this country that our children deserve,” said Dr Okafor.

Dr Okafor’s comments were made in a new video released on social media on Monday by the IHCA as part of its #CareCantWait campaign.

In a statement, the IHCA said the success of the ongoing consultant contract discussions “must deliver on the ‘unambiguous commitment’ made by the Minister for Health, [Stephen Donnelly], to resolve the pay inequity issue for all consultants contracted since 2012.

“This is vital in order to fill the one-in-five approved permanent consultants posts that are vacant or filled on a temporary basis and address Ireland’s shocking waiting lists.”