Children wait a year for mental health referral

The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services facility in Merlin Park

More than 200 Galway children with mental health problems have waited over a year for an appointment with local psychology services.  The lengthy waiting lists exist, despite €17.6 million of mental health funding earmarked for Galway and Roscommon over three years, having been returned unspent to central government.

The long waiting lists in Galway, and some other counties, has prompted Fianna Fáil to claim that there is “effectively an Eircode lottery” in primary care psychological services in this country.

The Galway figure – 208 children aged five to 17 waiting over a year – represents 10% of the 2,000 children who are on waiting lists psychology services.

The wait of more than a year is just for an initial appointment to assess what supports they require.

Junior Minister with responsibility for mental health, Jim Daly, has accepted that there are “issues and challenges”, including “management issues” that need to be addressed.

Minister Daly said he is in discussion with the department to develop a ‘front-door system’ of referrals, “whereby there is one point of contact for everybody who has a mental health issue who is seeking help” and “where a person dials the number he or she is appropriately referred”.

“At the moment, if a person wakes up and is feeling a bit low, it is not clear who to ring – ALONE, Jigsaw, primary care, the emergency department or the GP,” he said.

Fianna Fáil TD, James Browne, said Ireland signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and yet there are currently 2,000 children – 208 of them in Galway – waiting over a year for primary care psychological services.

“It is fair to say that figures like those are clear evidence that there is a crisis in the provision of mental health services for children in the community. It is simply unacceptable that children have to wait for that length of time to get their first appointment just to assess where they are at or what supports they need.

“Vulnerable children and teenagers need the service and there is an obligation to provide it. We know there are significant regional variations across the country depending on where one is,” said Deputy Browne.

Minister Daly said the Health Service Executive has “a service improvement initiative” under way for psychology services. This includes the recruitment of people to fill an additional 22 psychologist posts and 114 assistant psychology posts. The posts were advertised recently, he said.

“A cross-divisional working group, including the mental health division, is working to ensure standardised delivery of service, setting out and communicating the arrangements for care pathways and reporting of metrics. Each community health care organisation has been requested to submit a short-term action plan to address waiting lists in priority areas as part of the service improvement initiative,” he said.

Minister Daly confirmed almost €18m of the Galway Roscommon mental health budget was returned to his department unspent for the years 2012 to 2014.