HUNDREDS of children across Cork have been left waiting months or even years for mental health and psychology appointments in the Cork region.
It was recently revealed that more than 200 children out of almost 700 in Cork and Kerry have been waiting more than a year for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the region.
Meanwhile, more than 400 children out of almost 900 in Cork have been waiting more than a year for a psychology appointment.
Nationally, there were 2,600 children and teenagers were seeking CAMHS services in April this year and 7,106 children were waiting for a primary care psychology appointment at the end of May this year.
More than 1,800 of those awaiting a psychology appointment have been on the list for over a year.
One hundred children in Cork were awaiting CAMHS services for more than 18 months in April.
Such delays can have profoundly negative and long-lasting effects, according to Dr Judith Butler, lecturer in child psychology at CIT.
“Children in Cork and nationally are being denied access to crucial services that they should automatically be entitled to,” she said.
“It is dreadfully alarming to think that Cork children are waiting two years for assessments despite the fact that assessment should be completed within six months, according to the HSE’s own guidelines.
“It is just scandalous as delays in accessing treatment can have profound, negative and long-lasting impact on a child’s holistic health, well-being and development,” she added.
“My worry is that a lack of treatment results in a childhood lost which means long-lasting consequences right throughout the lifespan.
“Fundamentally, research suggests that if children cannot access the right treatment in a timely fashion, damage can be irreparable.”
Dr Butler explained that essentially, the longer a child waits for assessment and treatment, the less likely the treatment will be effective.
“I have been informed that there appears to be a recruitment difficulty of qualified personnel,” she added.
“We have superb CAMHS teams in Cork but we just don’t have enough of them.
“As a result, we need a full review and we need investment in additional places on training courses.
“In addition, we also need to explore regional disparities and tackle them once and for all,” said Dr Butler.
“These shocking delays in assessing and treating children young people need to be tackled immediately not only because our children are being denied their right to timely assessment but because every day that they are not receiving treatment leads to more complex difficulties.”
The waiting times being experienced in both the psychology services and CAMHS indicate the need for greater funding to support mental health services in the region, according to Cork GP and Lord Mayor of Cork city, Dr John Sheehan (FF).
“I think the CAMHS referrals are increasing by eight to 10 percent a year so we probably need to look at how we’re structuring the service because, at the moment, it’s all going through a funnel of assessment,” he said.
Dr Sheehan added the health service should examine other types of support on offer from organisations like Jigsaw, and how they can help alleviate some of the pressure on state services.
“At the moment, it’s like the acute hospital setting where almost everyone goes through A&E,” he explained.
“There are services out there providing great support and if they could work with the HSE, maybe CAMHS could prioritise the more serious cases and delegate the others.”
The Echo revealed earlier this year that one CAMHS team in Cork has been without a permanent child consultant for almost 18 months.
The lack of a consultant in the North Lee North area saw waiting lists for CAMHS services in the region close last summer.
Local GP Dr Sarah Sheehan said the lack of a permanent consultant and sporadic closures of waiting lists were having a major impact on children and their parents.
The delays in finding a permanent CAMHS consultant in the area was put down to a shortage of consultants across Europe.
A spokesperson for the HSE recently told The Echo that recruitment of a consultant psychiatrist for the North Lee North team was at an “advanced stage”.
Cork TD Seán Sherlock (Ind) said the CAMHS model is “clearly not working”.
“It benefits those who are able to provide private assessments which parents are forced into without, in many cases, being able to afford these services.”
Senator Colm Burke (FG) previously told The Echo that the CAMHS system seemed to be in need of reform. A spokesperson for Cork Kerry Community Healthcare said it aims to ensure urgent cases are seen within 24 to 48 hours.
“Non-urgent cases may need to be placed on a waiting list, but parents and guardians are signposted, where appropriate, to other services while the young person waits for an appointment.
“This year we continue to see an increased demand for services with a 10% increase in referral rates to the teams during this time.
“We regret that there can be a waiting list for a non-urgent case to see CAMHS, and we have put in place several initiatives to address the waiting lists across Cork and Kerry,” she added. These include a CAMHS enhancement project which has resulted in a 17% reduction in waiting list numbers from 780 in January 2019 to 646 as of June 2019.
In terms of psychology appointments, the spokesperson explained the area is challenged in terms of recruitment due to limited staff available across the country.
“The CHO is currently working on trying to ensure that permanent Psychology posts are filled from those who have recently become eligible for recruitment into these posts.”
Darragh Bermingham looks at how the crisis in our health service is affecting children, with long waiting lists for vital services which can have devastating effects in the long term.