Young people wait for six-year high for mental health care, warns IHCA

Nearly 100,000 children are on hospital waiting lists as the number of waits for mental health services peaks in six years, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has warned.

Speaking on behalf of the association, Dr Ike Okafor, a pediatric emergency medicine consultant at Temple Street Hospital in Dublin, said lack of access to treatment was behind an increase the number of children presenting to the emergency department of his hospital.

He said there were 97,000 children on a waiting list – one in 12 – and 37,700 were waiting more than a year for care. Of these, 27,700 had been waiting for more than 18 months.

Almost 3,000 children were waiting to access child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) – the highest number since 2015, when there were 3,100 children on this list.

Dr Okafor said the numbers were “not good enough” and children could not be left to wait for health care as delays could have serious, damaging and long-term impacts.

“No child should have to wait longer than six weeks for medical intervention. Long wait times are not just a problem for children’s physical or mental health. It is also about their social health; often they are not able to play with their peers, they do not spend time in school and that is really fundamental parts of their life.

Children’s mental health was of particular concern and children, who should have access to primary care psychology services or Camhs, were required to report to the emergency room for urgent mental health care.

Pressure points

“There are certain specialties where there are significant pressure points [with] not having enough staff and resources to be able to see patients. Mental health is a clear example.

“The pandemic has resulted in a massive increase in the number of children with acute mental health problems, particularly eating disorders and self-harm. A system that was already under pressure, not only in hospitals but in the community, suddenly went into crisis mode, ”said Dr Okafor.

“Children are waiting longer and longer to see psychologists and psychiatrists and that’s a problem.

He said a “holistic approach” was needed, including not only recruiting more health professionals, but also maintaining them and ensuring “the necessary physical infrastructure”.

“If we improve all of these things together, I think we can provide the health care in this country that our children deserve,” said Dr Okafor.

Dr Okafor’s comments were made in a new video posted to social media on Monday by the IHCA as part of its #CareCantWait campaign.

In a statement, the IHCA said that the success of the ongoing discussions on the consultant contract “must meet the unambiguous commitment made by the Minister of Health, [Stephen Donnelly], to resolve the issue of pay inequity for all consultants hired since 2012.

“This is vital to filling one in five approved permanent consultant posts that are vacant or filled on a temporary basis and to meet Ireland’s shocking waiting lists. “

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