Children in South-west at huge health service disadvantage

Where a child lives is dramatically impacting on how quickly they receive vital public health services, with children in Cork and Kerry at a serious disadvantage.

The problem is particularly acute in Cork City in relation to assessments of needs (AONs), which determine a child’s disability and the level of service they need.

As of the end of April, 1,718 assessments were overdue, primarily in Cork City, despite the HSE’s statutory duty to complete AONs within six months of receiving an application.

Delays in accessing speech and language services and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are also acute in the South-west, prompting children’s charity Barnardos to dub it “a particular blackspot”.

An analysis of HSE data by Barnardos shows:

  • Almost one third of children trying to access CAMHS in the South-west are waiting more than a year;
  • In the Clare/Limerick area, just under one-fifth of children are waiting more than a year;
  • In Dublin North, no child is waiting more than a year. Similarly in the South-east, but that situation is set to deteriorate with the pending resignation of three psychiatrists.

Jane Tinsley, Barnardos head of advocacy, said nationally there has been a 15% increase between September last and March 2018 in the number of children waiting for CAMHS.

She said the increase is accompanied, in most areas, by a rise in the number of children waiting longer than one year, with almost 14% now waiting more than a year for an initial appointment.

“It is not difficult to imagine the damage which is being done by forcing children to wait any amount of time for mental health services and support — let alone over a year,” she said.

Ms Tinsley said accessing speech and language therapy showed “huge regional variations”, with, once again, children in the South-west facing the longest wait times.

In total, there are 29,481 children waiting for speech and language services across the country, of whom 1,567 have been waiting over a year.

“These kind of waits will have a devastating impact on a child’s ability to communicate for the rest of their life,” Ms Tinsley said.

Separately, Dr Cathal Morgan, head of operations at HSE disability services, told the joint Oireachtas health committee yesterday that the AON situation in Cork was “a key priority for us”.

He said the major issues were in North Lee and South Lee — “the major urban centres”.

“They do need more therapy staff, but they also do need a structured way of working.”

He said the Cork area “stands out by a mile from the rest of the country”.

Senator Colm Burke said he wanted to see an outside agency contracted for a short period of time to help clear the backlog in Cork, adding: “There is no way, no matter what appointments you do, that you will deal with that backlog in a timely manner.”

He queried how the backlog was allowed to build in the first place.

Barnardos has called on the Government to implement a number of measures, including investing €5m to increase the number of speech and language therapists and developing 24/7 crisis intervention mental health services across the country.



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