Mental health services for children and teenagers in Ireland are falling far short of what is needed, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said.
In a submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the organisation insisted that current services are failing young people and their families.
Addressing the committee, Dr Matthew Sadlier, a consultant psychiatrist at Connolly Hospital in Dublin, highlighted the problems of chronic underfunding, understaffing, a lack of facilities and limited referral pathways for doctors.
"This means we have neither the capacity, staffing or specialist services in place to adequately respond to children seeking assistance," he said.
The Seanad committee was told that due to understaffing, doctors are forced to work hours far above legal limits. As an example, Dr Sadlier highlighted a particular 24-hour on-call mental health service in north Cork. He pointed out that three non-consultant hospital doctors have each been forced to provide 70 hours of on-call cover per week on top of their normal 39-hour working week.
He also noted that 68 children were admitted to adult psychiatric units in 2016, which is around 18% of all child admissions. He said that GPs are forced to refer young people to acute hospital settings when a patient's illness reaches a certain level of severity, as there are no established, properly-resourced referral pathways for GPs to access on behalf of young patients.
Dr Sadlier acknowledged the fact that mental health awareness ‘has never had a higher profile, with many prominent public figures acknowledging their own struggles with mental illness and encouraging others to seek help'.
"Sadly however, while as a society we may encourage our young people to access the help they need, the reality is that at the end of March this year, 51% of referrals to Children and Adult Mental Health Services were waiting over three months for an appointment. This is not acceptable and cannot be allowed to continue," he said.
The IMO called on the Seanad committee to recognise the severity of this situation and recommend immediate remedial action to the Government to address this situation.