Children’s charity Barnardos said it is “deeply concerned” over new figures showing that almost 2,500 children and teenagers are waiting to access mental health services, with “consistent delays” also being experienced in the Cork and Kerry region.
More than 500 children and teens are waiting to access mental health services in the Cork and Kerry region, with more than 150 waiting longer than a year for an appointment.
New figures given by the HSE to the Irish Examiner show that the Cork and Kerry region continues to have the highest waiting list for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
CAMHS provides support to children and teens under the age of 18, who have been referred with moderate to severe mental health difficulties, such as severe depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harm.
Nationally 2,470 children and teenagers across the country were waiting for a CAMHS appointment in April this year. A regional breakdown further shows that 532 children were on the waiting list in the Cork and Kerry region, 153 of whom have been waiting more than one year for an appointment.
Nationally, 248 children and teens — 10% of all on the waiting list — have been waiting more than one year for an appointment.
74% of all referrals nationally were offered an appointment within 12 weeks in April, falling short of its 78% performance target.
Children’s charity Barnardos said it is “deeply concerned” over the CAMHS waiting times and that it is unacceptable that children can not access services in a timely manner. Barnardos CEO, Suzanne Connolly, said: “In most cases children must wait for an initial assessment with CAMHS only to find themselves on another waiting list to access treatment. This means some children are left waiting over two years for treatment. This is not acceptable.”
Commenting on the “consistent delays” in the Cork/Kerry region Ms Connolly acknowledged staff recruitment issues but said children should not lose out on accessing services because of where they live: “It is not acceptable that the geographical location of where a child lives is a deciding factor in how long they have to wait to access mental health services."
Ms Connolly added that the Covid-19 pandemic also presented challenges for children and teens accessing services: “We know anecdotally that accessing CAMHS during the pandemic has not been possible for many children. This comes at a time when some children and young people are feeling additional stress or anxiety as a result of the pandemic and associated restrictions.”
The new mental health strategy due to be published next week, she said, must address “unsustainable” waiting lists by triaging and offering ‘lower risk’ children appropriate support services in the community.
The HSE said a 26% increase in referrals since 2011 and recruitment difficulties poses “significant challenges” but that it hopes to make a number of new consultant appointments in the short term. A spokesperson for the Cork/Kerry HSE region said: “We regret that young people cannot always access the CAMHS service as quickly as they or we would like. However, we wish to reassure young people and their families that urgent cases are responded to on a priority basis often within 24 to 48 hours."
“Interviews recently took place for the permanent CAMHS consultant posts in North Lee North, North Lee West and Kerry and the service is hopeful that these interviews will yield permanent candidates to these posts,” they added.