The Ombudsman for Children has expressed concern about the lack of progress that has been made in relation to young people who are struggling with serious mental health issues and cannot access the emergency supports that they need.
Dr Niall Muldoon highlighted the issue following the publication of the Ombudsman for Children's Annual Report 2017.
According to the report, a total of 1,755 complaints were received by the office of the Ombudsman last year - a 4% increase on 2016's figure and an overall 7% increase over the past two years.
The majority of complaints were made by parents and the three areas that recorded the highest number of complaints were education (45%), children protection and welfare (22%) and health (14%).
In the area of health, key issues included access to services such as speech and language therapy, long waiting lists for hospital procedures, and access to specialist child and adolescent mental health services.
In fact, Dr Muldoon emphasised that the availability of ‘accessible, appropriate and timely mental health services remains a concern for the office'.
"During 2017, we received 57 complaints about accessing mental health services and, in particular, the challenges for families when children are suicidal and seek help. We have told the HSE we have serious concerns about how suicidal young people access emergency services, and the difficulties faced in certain parts of the country.
"All children who need an assessment of mental health in Emergency Departments should be able to access this quickly, not days after the event," he commented.
He also noted that his office has found ‘an inequity in psychiatric consultant cover' nationwide.
"I would urge the HSE to address problems with consultant psychiatrists' out-of-hours contracts to ensure children and adolescents have access to the services they need, when they need them," Dr Muldoon said.
The role of the Ombudsman for Children is to promote and safeguard the rights and welfare of young people up to the age of 18 years.
It has the power to investigate complaints made by children and teenagers, or by adults on their behalf, about most types of schools and hospitals, government departments and certain public bodies.
For more information on the office, click here, or to view the Annual Report 2017, click here