Children With Mental Health Difficulties Face ‘Lottery’ For Care

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Children are being subjected to a ‘postcode lottery’ in receiving essential care for severe mental health issues, as agencies say a new report makes ‘disturbing’ reading.

The HSE’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) has been condemned as a ‘failing system that needs a radical overhaul’ by an independent watchdog that reviewed the service.

The Mental Health Commission’s investigation into national CAMHS services found that deficits in the service are ‘increasing the risk to children and young people’.

The report found that long waiting lists, lack of capacity to provide appropriate therapies, ‘lost’ cases, lack of emergency services and the absence of monitoring of certain medication amounted to a breach of children’s rights under the UN Convention.

Pic: Getty Images
Children are being subjected to a ‘postcode lottery’ in receiving essential care for severe mental health issues, as agencies say a new report makes ‘disturbing’ reading. Pic: Getty Images

It found some CAMHS teams had below half of recommended staffing levels, with some teams having no consultant psychiatrists at all, with work covered by locums or video calls with consultants.

Dr Susan Finnerty, the report’s author, said: ‘I cannot currently provide an assurance to all parents or guardians in all parts of Ireland that their children have access to a safe effective and evidence-based mental health service.’

Chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance Tanya Ward said the report is a ‘disturbing read’ and it is ‘alarming to hear’ Dr Finnerty is unable to provide assurances to people that the service is safe and effective.

She said the report showed that where a child lives in their country, or a ‘postcode lottery’, determines their access to mental health care ‘rather than need’.

Pic: Getty Images
The HSE’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) has been condemned as a ‘failing system that needs a radical overhaul’ by an independent watchdog that reviewed the service. Pic: Getty Images

‘Inconsistent, inefficient and unsafe are the last words we want to hear when describing our healthcare system and yet, that is the reality for the provision of mental health services to children and young people in this country,’ she said.

Mental Health Commission chief John Farrelly said the medical model for treating children with a consultant psychiatrist leading the team ‘needs to change’.

‘There is no current strategy for child and adolescent mental health services in Ireland,’ he said, adding that the Commission had to look to a 17-year-old document for comparison for staffing levels.

The report found that most of the CAMHS teams had no IT systems, with paper-based clinical files that were ‘frequently disordered, incomplete, sometimes illegible’.

Pic: Getty Images
The Mental Health Commission’s investigation into national CAMHS services found that deficits in the service are ‘increasing the risk to children and young people’. Pic: Getty Images

Mr Farrelly said he was most shocked by clinical files being held on ‘pieces of paper’.

‘There were meaningless care plans, they may as well not have been there.’

The Commission’s review found evidence of ‘lost cases’ in the system, with one team identifying 140 of these open cases that had no follow-up, and another team was attempting to identify ‘an unknown number of cases that had been lost’.

Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon said the report flagged a ‘litany of issues that have been there for a long time’.

Junior Health Minister Mary Butler said that the HSE has ‘actively and proactively’ sought to remedy concerns raised by the interim report from the Commission in January this year.



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