Just under 3,400 children were awaiting a consultation with the HSE’s mental health services at the end of 2021, according to new figures.
The figure of 3,357 children awaiting an appointment with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs), released to Labour TD for Cork East Sean Sherlock via parliamentary question, was raised at this morning’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee with the HSE to discuss those services.
Of those 3,357 children awaiting an appointment, more than half have been waiting for more than three months, while 221 have been waiting for more than a year.
The HSE’s community healthcare organisation (CHO4), which covers Kerry and Cork, is the worst-impacted sector, with 682 children awaiting an appointment. The 97 children waiting for more than a year for an appointment in CHO4 is likewise the worst in the country.
Mr Sherlock told the HSE’s CEO, Paul Reid, that he remains “to be convinced that proper resources are being deployed” in terms of mental health services.
Mr Reid replied that he “understands the frustration” regarding Camhs waiting lists. His chief operating officer Anne O’Connor told the hearing that “actually Camhs performs well with respect to targets”. She said that the HSE’s target for an initial Camhs consultation is 12 weeks, with urgent cases to be seen inside three days.
In terms of the recent Maskey Report into Camhs in south Kerry between 2016 and 2021, which found that “significant harm” had been done to 46 children on foot of the medicines prescribed by a doctor there, Mr Reid said the issue was a “complete failure” of procedure and oversight.
He said that the whistleblowing doctor regarding the scandal, Dr Ankur Sharma, has made a protected disclosure to him directly, which precludes him from speaking on the matter in-depth with the committee. “We are going to do justice to that disclosure, but you have to accept my role,” Mr Reid said.
The Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told the meeting that the more than €1 billion of current spending on mental health services in 2020 is as yet unaudited.
“The appropriation account for the vote does not report the outturn for the mental health services, either in terms of delivery performance or of service-related expenditure,” Mr McCarthy said. "Reconciling the budget figures for mental health funding to the HSE’s annual report spending figure for mental health is further complicated because of the different bases of accounting used.”
At PAC, @neasa_neasa lays into @roinnslainte re closure of Owenacurra mental health centre. "You have decided to move 19 ppl 30km, I had a man crying the other day, he’s lived there all his life. This has nothing to do with residents, this is to do with centralising expenditure"— Cianan Brennan (@ciananbrennan) March 10, 2022
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy took issue with this point, and asked the Department of Health witness to the committee, Seamus Hempenstall, about that expenditure being unaudited. Mr Hempenstall replied that he was “unaware” of the C&AG’s report on the matter.
“How do you make sure the money is spent on the services it is actually provided for?” Ms Murphy replied.
In terms of the HSE’s plans to shut the Owenacurra community mental health centre in Midleton, and a proposed replacement facility at Glenwood House in Carrigaline, Mr Sherlock said that “sending people 30 kilometres up the road is not how we treat people in this day and age”.
He asked that Mr Reid “reconsider and have a bit of heart in respect of these people”.
“We’ve given it a thorough assessment, it’s not the appropriate location for residents for the future. We do have real heart on this one, we fully empathise and we are fully committed to finding solutions,” he said.