Psychologists highlighting serious gaps within HSE services

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The main representative body for psychologists is highlighting, what it says are, serious gaps within HSE services ranging from children's services all the way to the over-65s.

A spokesperson for the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) said current resource gaps were being exacerbated by issues in recruitment, contributing to long waiting times for families to access services.

The PSI has claimed that the number of psychologists working in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is currently 72.5 - almost 118 below the recommended level of 190 as outlined in the Government's own 'Vision for Change' mental health strategy.

There is also a shortfall in psychologists for dealing with the over 65s - 22.1 compared with the recommended level of 47.6.

"The shortfall in psychiatrists is quite small compared with the shortfall in psychologists," the PSI said, adding that this is one of the main contributors to lengthening CAMHS waiting lists as well as longer waiting times for Assessment of Need.

The PSI also said that recruitment has been a consistent problem.

"There are between 70 and 80 psychology graduates each year but hiring them has been problematic," the PSI said.

Figures for last year show 76 graduates, but according to the PSI, just 67 were called to interview, from which only 47 were accepted for CAMHS, with 43 accepted for disability services, 43 for adult services and 46 for lifespan services.

Referencing figures it has seen, the PSI referred to people emerging from HSE-funded courses, which had 56 applicants in 2016 and 40 in 2017.

Of the 2016 cohort, just 20 were in permanent full-time positions in the HSE in March of last year, and just 10 of the 2017 cohort were in permanent full-time positions with the HSE last March.

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Another issue is the current stipulation whereby promotion within grades can only be achieved by working a minimum of 60 days in disability services, adult services and children's services, while the PSI also referred to the practice of having psychiatrists as team leaders - meaning some teams cannot operate if there is a psychiatry vacancy.

The PSI said the NHS in England had moved away from that protocol a number of years ago.

The row over gaps in key psychology services comes as the impasse over a new model of delivery of Assessment of Need (AON) continues.

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Last Spring the HSE outlined its intention to bring in a new Standard Operating Procedure, which it said would tackle the backlog of cases that needed to be addressed.

But professional groups, including the PSI, railed against it.

One element of that plan which had caused particular concern, was the proposed Preliminary Team Assessment (PTA) model “to be completed in a maximum of 90 minutes, regardless of the child’s needs”.

The PSI said this screening model was contrary to the spirit of the Disability Act (2005) and that it was “a brief screening assessment only”, adding “its introduction will significantly reduce the level of assessment provided to a child”.

The Fórsa trade union said there had been no prior consultation on the issue, leading the HSE to defer implementation of the plan.

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