Over 250 children waiting to access mental health services

Child mental health. (File pic/PA)
Child mental health. (File pic/PA)

In excess of 250 children are waiting to be assessed for mental health services in the Western Trust area, with some already in the system waiting up to 18 weeks for a routine appointment.

The Western Trust confirmed that it has had difficulty in recruiting specialist posts within the CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and said there has also been a 34 per cent rise in referrals.

In information obtained through a Freedom of Information request, the Trust admitted that in some routine cases it has missed its maximum nine weeks target for a child being seen by the CAMHS team once they are referred.

The specialist CAMHS service forms part of a network to support children and young people aged up to 18 who are experiencing moderate to severe emotional, behaviour and mental health difficulties and which, in turn, are significantly impacting the young person’s daily psychological, social and educational functioning.

RANGE OF CONDITIONS

A wide range of conditions are dealt with under CALMS including self harm, depression, anxiety disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, Attachment Disorders, Autism with co-occurring mental health problems, ADHD with co-occurring Mental Health Problem, Eating Disorders, Early Onset Psychosis and substance misuse problems where there is a co-occurring mental health problem.

In response to questions submitted by the ‘Journal,’ the Western Trust confirmed: “As at November 30, 2018 there are 260 children waiting to be assessed and treated Under Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

“We cannot provide an average waiting time for our CAMHS service. At November 30, 2018 the longest waiting time for accessing a routine CAMHS appointment was 18 weeks.

“When a young person is seen by CAMHS for initial assessment following that assessment based on individual case formulation and clinical risk identified, treatment options are discussed with the young person and family. A further follow up appointment is arranged in conjunction with the family and given at that point in time.”

The Trust has said that in accordance with the CAMHS Care Pathway the service aims to consistently meet a series of targets depending on the immediacy of the situation.

In emergency situations, the target set is that a young person, once referred, is seen within 24 hours, while in urgent cases they are seen within five working days.

In routine cases, the young person is seen within nine weeks, but the Trust confirmed: “Unfortunately given clinical demands and pressures, there may be occasions when our nine week target for routine referrals is not met.”

Elaborating, the spokesperson added: “The CAMHS service has experienced a 34 per cent increase in referrals. This has been highlighted to the Health and Social Care Board.

“In addition to this the Trust has had difficulty in recruiting to specialist posts within CAMHS.”

ADULT MENTAL HEALTH

The ‘Journal’ had asked the Trust for the information after being contacted by a local woman who expressed concerns over staffing at the adult mental health services at Slievemore several weeks ago.

The mother said that this was the only facility of its kind for people in the cityside and that while the psychiatrist is off on holidays, there is no-one at the same level to step in and conduct the appointments/work they would normally cover.

The woman said at the time that her son was really unwell and she was struggling. She said she was shocked to find that there was nobody available from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and that families had to take the patient to their GP or Out of Hours or see a nurse, who she said is not trained to the same level as a psychiatrist.

The woman had also alerted the PSNI and Foyle Search & Rescue about the situation in case of crisis situations developing.

The woman also expressed concerns that children may be being brought in under the adult mental health team’s remit due to long waiting lists for assessment and treatment in children’s services.

The Western Trust, however, said there are no children under 18 being seen by Adult Mental Health Recovery Teams.

RESPONSE FROM TRUST

Responding to the concerns around continuity of service at Slievemore, the spokesperson said: “To protect patient/client confidentiality we do not comment on individual cases.

“Slievemore Recovery Team is a Multidisciplinary Mental Health Team based on the cityside. The team provides recovery-focused care and support for those in the community with serious and enduring mental health problems.

“The team consists of a consultant psychiatrist and trainee doctor; community psychiatric nurses; mentalhealth social workers; psychologist; occupational therapy staff; nursing and support workers.

“This multidisciplinary team are trained mental health personnel specialised in the care, treatment and management of people with enduring mental illness.

“For individuals who are key worked by the team, the key worker is their first point of contact for the individual and their family members should they become concerned about their loved one. During office hours a Mental Health Practitioner is available in the team for those who attend the service but are not key worked. The Mental Health Practitioner can offer advice, assessment and discuss treatment options with the Consultant Psychiatrist if required.”

The spokesperson continued: “Slievemore Recovery Team is part of the Western Trust’s wider mental health system including Acute In-patient and Day Care services, Primary Care Liaison services, Community Day Care, Adult Psychological Therapy Services and other specialist services.

“If a recovery patient is in crisis, a referral to the Crisis Response Home treatment team/in-patient care can be made by recovery Staff. There is medical input to this team on a 24 hour basis. The crisis service is staffed by highly skilled mental health professionals and is also accessible via the GP and OOH services.”

CHALLENGES

“Whilst there have been challenges regarding Consultant Psychiatrist cover across the Western Trust recently due to illness and availability of suitably trained staff for vacant posts and locum cover, we can assure the public that service users attending Slievemore Recovery Team have access to appropriately trained professionals and services and no outpatient clinics in Slievemore were cancelled.

“There is also a medical trainee based with the team who continues to see scheduled out-patients. Throughout any time away from the team, the consultant remains available to the team for consultation and advice.

“The Trust is actively seeking acute locum cover for the gaps in the system and in the longer term are planning to recruit two speciality doctors to improve medical resource within the Recovery teams.”