Children in need of mental health services in the Western Health Trust area are waiting more than six months for an appointment with a psychologist.
Figures obtained by the ‘Journal’ in a Freedom of Information request, show that the current waiting time for an appointment is 30 weeks.
The target waiting time for appointments with the Paediatric Clinical Psychology Service is 13 weeks.
SDLP MLA and party spokesman on health, Mark H. Durkan, said ‘children are being failed’ by under-investment in mental health.
He went on: “Getting the bespoke treatment that children need is proving extremely difficult, if not near impossible. This isn’t just an issue for the Western Trust but it is reflected right across the North.”
The figures obtained disclose that, at the end of February, 2018, there were 75 children on the waiting list for a first outpatient appointment with a psychologist.
Mr. Durkan said the waiting times were ‘awful’ and are, undoubtedly, causing added stress for families.
“There needs to be increased investment in mental health services and nowhere is that difficulty more enhanced that paediatric psychology services,” he noted.
“The blame is not to be laid at the door of the Western Trust, but by continued under investment by the Department of Health.”
The Paediatric Clinical Psychology Service covers referrals from hospital and community based paediatricians from across the Trust.
The Trust was asked to confirm the range of issues addressed by the service in the FOI request.
It confirmed that: “The team sees children, their families and staff for a range of issues which can arise when a child or young person has medical and physical health needs.
“They may also see children who have a concomitant learning difficulty or disability.
“Other reasons for referral include early intervention; direct work for children to address adjustment issues; bereavement; complex decision making; promotion of adherence; feeding difficulties; neuropsychological assessment plus psychological management of conditions.”
It also confirmed that the aim of the service was to ‘reduce distress, improve psychological well being and improve health outcomes for these children, young people and their carers.’
Mark Durkan said that everyone accepts the importance of early years intervention when it comes to mental health issues.
However, the MLA said: “Unfortunately we are not seeing resources being put in that area.’
He added: “Mental health issues in early years can have long lasting effects. Investment in early years is not just important for the health and well being of the child, but prudent investment by the government for the future.”
Mr. Durkan also questioned the logic of setting target times and missing them by such a wide margin.
“These targets have been drawn up by health professionals as acceptable, yet they are still being missed. The failure is glaring and it is inevitable that there is huge resource issue.”
One family, whose child has been waiting for an appointment for 26 weeks, have said missing these targets was ‘not good enough’.
The family, who do not wish to be identified, said it had concerns the extended waiting time will have a long lasting impact on their child’s mental health.
“So far the only communication we have had from the Paediatric Clinical Psychology Service is a questionnaire which we had to fill out. The questions were not at all relevant to our child or his issues.”
“Our child has been referred to psychology because they need professional assistance, yet six months down the line we have received no help at all. We worry that the issues our child has now will remain with him for the rest of his life.”