Young people have died while awaiting Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the Cork region, it has been claimed.
The HSE has revealed that the overstretched mental health services saw 995 young people last year.
However, there were 747 more on the waiting list in the region as of February 28, with 120 of these waiting more than 18 months for an appointment.
Young people have died while on the waiting list, according to mental health campaigner and city councillor Mick Finn, who has worked with young people over the last decade through his roles in the education sector.
“Eighteen months waiting to be seen is not good enough for vulnerable young people and I know for a fact that some young people have died in that waiting time,” he said.
“This is not to dramatise or over-state the problem: this is the reality.
“As someone who worked at the frontline of education services for 10 years with a School Completion Programme in Cork City, I saw first hand the explosion in demand for mental health support services among young people,” he added.
“In many cases, the public waiting list for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is the only route because of cost factors,” he added.
“I acknowledge there have been difficulties in filling posts, but this sector needs to be resourced properly and taken seriously by government,” added councillor Finn.
“The work of groups like Pieta and the Samaritans, plus the arrival of Jigsaw in Cork, is holding back the tide but we’re still really only waiting for the flood to come,” he warned.
A spokesperson for Cork Kerry Community Healthcare said that while they cannot give out any information that might identify someone, they “accept that the waiting lists to access CAMHS services in some areas are simply too long.”
Work is underway to address these waiting lists in the form of funding which has been made available to recruit extra staff and a total of 7.5 whole time equivalents, which are expected to be in place by the end of July, according to the spokesperson.
“However, we need to point out that it will take time for there to be an impact on waiting lists,” they added.
It has also been revealed that CAMHS in Cork are operating with just 587 doctors and nurses, half of the workforce that was deemed necessary in the Government's ‘A Vision for Change' policy document.
Sinn Fein TD for Cork North Central Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said:
“It is deeply worrying that CAMHS teams in Cork City and other areas are operating with just over half of the staff they need.
“Without doubt our CAMHS services are in crisis and the figures highlight that,” said Fianna Fail Councillor Mary Rose Desmond.
“In the Cork Kerry Region alone the number of children and young adolescents waiting on an appointment represent 29% of the National waiting list figures.
“That’s unacceptable, I’d like to say that I’m surprised by these figures but I’m not as I’m seeing a dramatic increase in representations from parents who are at their wits end with worry about their children,” she added.
“They are fighting for their children to get the urgent help they need and the service is letting them down.
“The advice they are getting from HSE is to present at A&E with their children if their children need crisis assistance.
“That’s not the way to treat these families, we need to be working on helping these children before they get to that point.
“In a time when we are all talking about the need to be aware of mental health risks the HSE must do more to ensure they urgently address the staffing shortage and supply of psychologists to provide the service that is needed.”