Psychological services for young people need urgent reform, says Cairns

Numbers waiting for primary care psychology services in Cork are ‘staggering’, says Social Democrats leader

Reform of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) in the wake of the Kerry Camhs scandal needs to be extended to broader primary care psychology services, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said.

Ms Cairns said the numbers waiting for primary care psychology services in Cork has risen by over 20 per cent in under a year with some 4,160 young people now waiting to be seen by Cork primary care psychology services compared to 3,408 last June.

“There has rightly been a very strong focus on the need to reform Camhs services and reduce their waiting lists across the country. However, the crisis facing primary care psychology services has largely slipped under the radar,” the Cork South West TD said.

Ms Cairns explained that although Camhs teams work with children and adolescents with moderate to severe mental health difficulties that may require intensive intervention, primary care psychology services work with children and adolescents with mild to moderate mental health difficulties.

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“At the moment we have 854 young people waiting to meet with Camhs psychology services in Cork but the primary care psychology waiting lists in Cork are almost five times worse – the waiting list figures for Cork are staggering,” she said.

“The earlier we intervene and provide mental health support, the less likely it is that the young person’s mental health difficulties will become entrenched or get worse – each individual on that waiting list represents a child who is being actively denied the care they need.”

Ms Cairns recently raised the issue in the Dáil and was told the numbers waiting for primary care services in Cork was up from 3,408 in June 2023 to 4,160 on May 1st while the number of those waiting more than 12 months was up from 2,087 to 2,535.

She pointed out the figures for those waiting more than 12 months for primary care psychology services in the North Lee, South Lee, North Cork, and West Cork HSE areas did not give any further detail on how long some of these service users have been waiting.

“We have been provided with a figure for young people who have been waiting in excess of 12 months for services, but we have no idea whether they have been waiting for 13 months, two years or three years or more, and that is very concerning,” she said.

In reply to Ms Cairns’s Dáil question, Priscilla Lynch, head of Service Primary Care, Cork Kerry Community Health Care, acknowledged the time frame providing services was “less than desirable” and she apologised for the long waiting times but said it was the consequence of several factors.

These factors included “a growth in the demand for services and also the implications of resource deficit due to the present recruitment embargo [and] efforts were being made to increase resources throughout and reducing waiting times are indeed our top priority”.

“We are actively working on strategies to address resource allocation, validation of waiting lists, streamlining processes and optimising existing workloads, ultimately working towards providing timely access for all to services,” said Ms Lynch.

Ms Cairns said it was clear from Ms Lynch’s response that the HSE recruitment embargo has had an impact on waiting list numbers and times which was in clear contrast with “the Government line that HSE staffing numbers are at their highest and that services are not being impacted by the embargo”.

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