'We’re seeing families at their wits' end': Call for investment into overloaded CAMHS services in Cork

A Cork charity founder is warning that the CAMHS service is “under pressure and “overloaded”. Darragh Bermingham hears from the Rainbow Club’s Karen O’Mahony who said the charity has taken on children on CAMHS waiting lists.
'We’re seeing families at their wits' end': Call for investment into overloaded CAMHS services in Cork

Speaking to The Echo Rainbow Club founder Karen O’Mahony said CAMHS is under severe pressure and has not been resourced to deal with the influx of children with autism who have mental health concerns or ADHD that has been seen in recent years. Picture: Howard Crowdy

CALLS have been made for increased investment in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Cork to ensure children with autism in need of mental health support are not left languishing on waiting lists.

Cork charity Rainbow Club, which provides support for children with autism and their families, has highlighted the need for increased resources and funding for CAMHS, amid concerns that children with autism are receiving little or no dedicated support for mental health issues. At the end of January this year, Cork/Kerry boasted the largest CAMHS waiting list in Ireland, with around 900 children awaiting mental health services in the region.

The Echo revealed in January that CAMHS teams in Cork and Kerry are operating with a staff vacancy level of 16% compared to the levels required under Vision for Change, with information obtained by Cork TD Thomas Gould revealing CAMHS teams in the region were operating with around 20 staff less than recommended.

Speaking to The Echo Rainbow Club founder Karen O’Mahony said CAMHS is under severe pressure and has not been resourced to deal with the influx of children with autism who have mental health concerns or ADHD that has been seen in recent years.

“With the growing numbers of children being diagnosed with autism, we’re seeing more children with possible ADHD or mental health issues, and this may require intervention and, in some cases, medication,” Ms O’Mahony explained. “CAMHS really are the only service that are licensed as such to put children under the age of 18 on medication.

“CAMHS were set up to deal with these mental health issues but it’s just not equipped to take on the additional workload we’re seeing at the moment from disability services.

“Primary care and CDNTs (Children’s Disability Network Teams) are referring to CAMHS if they feel the child has mental health needs but CAMHS are just totally overburdened,” she added.

“CAMHS is already taking on more than they can deal with at the moment, which is why we’re seeing huge waiting lists.”

Ms O’Mahony called for increased funding and resources for CAMHS to ensure the service can cater for the high level of demand it is currently experiencing. “There needs to be more investment into CAMHS definitely,” she said.

“When it was set up originally, it was set up for children with mental health needs — it wasn’t resourced to deal with the sudden influx in the number of children in the disability sector with autism seeking support for ADHD or mental health concerns that we’ve seen in the last 10 years or so.

“It’s completely overloading a system that’s already under pressure.”

Ms O’Mahony revealed that the Rainbow Club has taken on children on CAMHS waiting lists, and their families, who have been directed towards the charity to receive any support available while awaiting CAMHS care.

“The referrals are for services we provide that may be able to help families,” she said. “We’ve had therapists contact us and social workers contact us asking can we take a family in.

“We’re seeing families at their wits' end,” she added. “The investment just isn’t there. I know CAMHS have had some negativity over the past few months and years but if there was investment, it could be improved.

“Things are so desperate at the moment and there is a huge need for more investment and support.”


A spokesperson for Cork Kerry Community Healthcare said: “Cork Mental Health Services are currently implementing and working on strategies to address the waiting list in Cork.

“Multi-agency liaison, including liaison with the relevant CDNT, does take place when children have been assessed by CAMHS.”

A spokesperson for the HSE said CAMHS teams meet every week to review all referrals, and that “every effort is made to prioritise urgent referrals so that young people with high-risk presentations are seen as soon as possible, often within 24 to 48 hours”.

“This may impact on wait times for cases that are considered, by a clinician, to be less severe,” they added.

According to the HSE, around 91.1% of urgent referrals to CAMHS were responded to within three working days, exceeding the 90% target.

However, just 65.9% of referrals accepted by CAMHS teams were offered an appointment within 12 weeks against a target of 80%.

Meanwhile, 91.2% of accepted referrals or re-referrals were offered a first appointment and seen within 12 months.

“CAMHS is not suitable for everyone,” the HSE spokesperson stated.

“For those who have a diagnosis of autism, their needs are best met in services such as HSE Primary Care and/or CDNTs.

“Where the child or adolescent presents with a moderate to severe mental disorder and autism, it is the role of CAMHS to provide appropriate multidisciplinary mental health assessment and treatment for the mental disorder.

“This may involve joint working or shared care with other agencies including HSE Primary Care, CDNTs, and other agencies supporting children and adolescents,” they added.

The HSE also stated that young people with mild to moderate mental health difficulties can access support at primary care level either through the HSE or through a range of organisations fully or partially funded by the HSE.

These organisations include MyMind.org, a text-line on 50808 and Jigsaw, which is funded by the HSE to provide early intervention mental health services which focus on the needs of 12 to 25-year-olds.


However, it was revealed recently that Cork has the longest waiting time for children seeking to access mental health services at Jigsaw, with a wait time of up to 30 weeks.

Figures released to Sinn Féin recently revealed significant wait times for counselling appointments with Jigsaw.

Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central, Thomas Gould, said recently: “Demand for the Jigsaw service right across the State continues to grow, however, as a result youths are waiting up to 30 weeks in Cork to get an appointment as of mid-January.

“Every expert in child and adolescent mental health will tell you that early intervention is absolutely vital in avoiding enduring and worsening problems in the future.

“Yet, these figures reveal that if a child or young person seeks out care they are in all likelihood going to be faced with extended waiting periods which are simply unacceptable, and put them and their mental health at a very serious risk,” he added.

“Continuously, we see Cork top the list for the longest and largest waiting list for children’s health services.

“From speech and language therapy to CAMHS, there are serious concerns with the provision of health services for children across Cork.

“Today’s news is another blow for parents and young people.

“Uniformed mental health treatment is needed so our young people can access the care they need, when they need it and where they need it.

“Jigsaw provides a very good service to young people who are experiencing mental health difficulties, so it is vital that young people can access treatment at the earliest opportunity.”

Jigsaw in Cork was contacted for comment.

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