Waiting lists for children and teenagers in need of mental health appointments grew by 24% last year as a surge in demand put services under increased strain.
The practice of admitting children to adult psychiatric units also continued with more than a fifth of all under-18s who needed inpatient care being admitted to adult facilities in contravention of best practice.
Psychiatrist and HSE advisor Brendan Doody said that the figures, revealed in the HSE’s annual report on the community Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, had clear implications.
“It demonstrates the necessity for continued investment in the development of services to meet this demand, so that children and adolescents can access appropriate services in a timely manner and achieve the best possible outcomes,” said Dr Doody.
Primary school children with ADHD and hyperactivity were the biggest category of patients seen by CAMHS teams — accounting for 31.6% of all initial referrals.
However, 15 is the age when children are most likely to be receiving treatment, and anxiety, depression, deliberate self-harm, and eating disorders all feature prominently among the 17,116 under-18s who currently availing of CAMHS services — a figure that represents 1.5% of all children in the country.
Services expanded over the period and staff managed to see 11% more new clients in 2013 compared to 2012, only half the 21% increase in general referrals over the same period.
It left a total of 2,541 patients waiting to be seen at the end of last September following referrals to CAMHS, which was 485 more than at the end of September 2012.
Half of the new cases on waiting lists were seen within a month of referral, but 5% had to wait between six and 12 months and 4% were without an appointment for more than a year.
One contributing factor highlighted in the report was delays in filling staff vacancies. Of 80 posts sanctioned in 2013, just 24 had been filled by the end of the year and there were still 15 vacancies out of the new posts sanctioned in 2012.
No-shows were also a problem for services, with 11% of new clients failing to turn up for their first appointment. In one sample month alone, November 2012, the overall non-attendance rate was 18%.
Progress has been made in reducing the number of children being admitted as inpatients to adult facilities, with the proportion dropping from 65% of admissions in 2008 to 22% or 68 children last year.
Of those 68 children, 21 were subsequently transferred to a child and adolescent unit, and the HSE said more spaces would come on stream this year and the number of admissions to adult centres “should continue to decrease”.
Minister for Mental Health Kathleen Lynch acknowledged the increase in demand on CAMHS services. “[It] reinforces my commitment to ensure that the best use is made of additional investment by this government for our mental health services,” she said.
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