Regional Mental Health Service enters deep crisis
A 15-year-old Waterford girl who recently attempted to end her life by suicide has expressed her concerns about the deficits in mental health service provision for teenagers and young adults across the South East.
Speaking exclusively to The Munster Express, ‘Anna’ and her mother ‘Jane’ (both requested that their real names not be printed given the sensitivity of the topic) aired their worries for other households across the region facing difficulties they’re intimately familiar with.
Reflecting on the news that three consultant psychiatrists in Waterford and Wexford are to resign from their child and adolescent mental health positions, which may leave the region with just one full-time consultant inside a matter of weeks, Anna voiced her concerns.
“Just giving people medication and telling someone ‘we’ll see you in two weeks’ isn’t enough,” she told this newspaper at her home on Friday last.
“And what was given to me first wasn’t even right for me as things turned out. They definitely need to do a lot more to try and give young people like me a real sense of hope and to help us feel safer.”
Jane, who has had to supervise Anna around the clock on several occasions given “how deep a black hole she has fallen into more than once”, said her experience as a parent of a suicidal child has left her feeling as if “nobody in the services wants to help you”.
She added: “We left hospital after Anna’s suicide attempt without anyone telling her what she should do to distract herself or what she should do when it came to getting help if she needed it before her next appointment the following week: nobody sat down and had that chat with Anna despite her leaving the hospital and still feeling suicidal. And then we hear about the resignations in the last few days and you might as well be pouring petrol on a fire. Instead of getting further help, we’re being told things are going to get worse before they get better. How can that be in 2018?”
Political reaction to last week’s news has struck a note of resounding concern. Senator Grace O’Sullivan (GP) believes that, unless urgent action is taken, lives could be lost in the South East.
Addressing the Seanad on Thursday last, Senator O’Sullivan said: “This issue is of extreme importance and urgency. For many young people, this could be a life or death issue.“Three consultant Psychiatrists in Waterford and Wexford resigned their positions together. With a fourth consultant for the South East out on sick-leave this would leave the region entirely without expert mental health care from mid-July. It could disable the operations of most if not all mental health care in the region, if junior staff, non-consultant hospital doctors, psychologists and occupational therapists are left without senior staff to guide and authorise their work.
“The situation has been deteriorating in the region for a long time now. We have heard from patient and staff groups about growing waiting lists, deteriorating working conditions and poorer service delivery.” Senator O’Sullivan added: ” There is no coverage at all in the South East area for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services when staff are on leave, due to these shortages, leaving staff stressed, overworked, and unable to deliver a standard of care that they would want. The long waiting lists put young people in dire need of emergency care at severe risk.
“It doesn’t have to be like this. What’s needed is a significant increase in investment in mental health care in the region in one sharp move. This situation simply cannot continue. Lives could be lost if no immediate action is taken. We need the Government to set out how they’ll fill these short term vacancies arising in mid-July.”
Deputy David Cullinane (SF) said the HSE must address the reasons behind the recent resignations of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) consultants in the region.
“The South East is losing three child and adolescent mental health psychiatrists, leaving just one full time consultant covering a population of 278,000,” he stated.
“As an interim measure, the HSE has hired a consultant based in Galway to work weekends in the interim.” David Cullinane added: “The HSE needs to address the reasons why these people are leaving.There are huge pressures due to the lack of capacity in the system. This is a real wake-up call for the HSE. A sticking plaster solution has been put in place until they recruit more staff but unless the underlying issues regarding capacity are addressed what is to stop those people from leaving in turn?…The people of the South East deserve more than sticking plasters.”TD Mary Butler (FF) stuck a similar note, calling for a HSE action plan “to ensure that the county’s children are not left without access to a consultant paediatric psychiatrist”.
Deputy Butler was commenting after the existing consultant, Dr Kieran Moore said that that he and two of his colleagues from the South East region were resigning at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Mental Healthcare. “Dr Moore told the Committee that he was leaving as the building ‘is in a state’ and that staff are ‘burnt out.’,” said Deputy Butler. “He confirmed that mental health services in the country required continuous funding and that he felt it was not neither ‘safe nor untenable’.“The South East is going to be left without a paediatric consultant psychiatrist from July 2018, and I honestly don’t believe that the HSE have a plan in place to offer alternative services to children and young adults in the South East.”
She added: “The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is struggling to meet demand. Its poor track record on recruiting the staff needed to roll out A Vision for Change is well documented. However, now it is starting to lose its existing staff, and I fear for the children who desperately need their care and support.
“Minister Daly and indeed Minister Harris need to get their heads together, and secure adequate cover for the South East. In the medium term, the complaints that Dr Moore raised, namely the poor working environment and staff burnout must be addressed.” Mary Butler concluded: “The wellbeing of our children and young people is now at risk.”
In the wake of last week’s resignations, the HSE stated: “The HSE’s South East Community Healthcare services wish to assure the public that it is there to care and provide support, has dedicated teams of professionals in place and that the welfare of patients, clients, service users and their families is paramount.
“The HSE is currently operating a national and international recruitment campaign for consultant child and adolescent psychiatrists. This resource will be drawn on to fill positions on a permanent basis in the Waterford and Wexford areas.”
The statement concluded: “Among additional options being looked at are vacancies being filled on an interim or temporary basis, inclusive of the possibility of utilising consultant psychiatrists from neighbouring HSE community healthcare services.”

* See next week’s edition for an extensive interview with ‘Anna’ and ‘Jane’