Wednesday 16 January 2019

Children are being kept in 'dungeon-like adult wards'

Shortage of beds for young mental health patients

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Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Children with serious mental health problems are being kept in "dungeon-like" conditions in adult psychiatric wards, a Fianna Fail TD has warned.

The party's mental health spokesperson James Browne also revealed he was recently contacted by a family whose 16-year-old son was forced to spend six full weeks in an adult ward.

The Sunday Independent previously revealed the shocking case of a bullied teenager, who was forced to spend at least two weeks in an adult ward along with grown up patients with severe mental health problems.

"These places can be like dungeons, they are in the basements of hospitals and not suitable for children. I wouldn't like an adult relation to be in some of these wards, they are horrible places to be," Mr Browne said.

Mr Browne also revealed the HSE told him it does not hold any records detailing the length of time children are forced to stay in adult wards.

The disturbing description of the State's mental health facilities comes as Fianna Fail prepares to ramp up pressure on the Government to address the on-going crisis faced by thousands of families.

The party will bring forward legislation which will give equal status to people suffering mental health illness as those suffering with physical conditions.

Fianna Fail will also use the Dail to force the Government to outline its solution for resolving the massive shortage of beds for children with mental health issues.

Meanwhile, the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) has warned ministers there are currently 500 nursing vacancies in mental health facilities and the union expects more than a third of its members to retire in the next five years.

In a letter sent to ministers last week, PNA general secretary Peter Hughes said services will "get worse" and conditions will "deteriorate further" if the Government does not act immediately.

Mr Hughes's warning comes as new figures show the HSE spent a massive €34m in six months hiring agency nurses and doctors for mental health services.

Last week, the parents of Milly Tuomey, who took her own life at the age of 11, called on the Government to urgently address the ongoing crisis in mental health services for children.

Fiona Tuomey, Milly's mother, said more families will face the same trauma as they did after their daughter's suicide, if more is not done to improve services.

"We need better resources and that means people sitting up and taking action. If there isn't a change in the way things are, our story is going to continue in another family, in another home, in another loved one."

Mrs Tuomey was speaking on RTE's Young and Troubled documentary which highlighted the plight of children with mental health problems and their experience of dealing with State services.

According to figures supplied to Fianna Fail by the HSE, there were 6,181 children waiting for primary care psychology appointments at the end of January 2018.

Of the young people waiting, 1,635 were waiting over a year to be seen. This effectively means that these children spent all of 2017 waiting for an appointment.

Meanwhile, 2,579 children and young people are waiting for an appointment with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Camhs) in Ireland.

"The latest figures obtained show that while the Government has repeatedly claimed to be improving the capacity of Camhs nationwide - close to 250 more children have been added to the list in the past year," a party spokesperson said.

"This is disappointing, in itself, to say the least but to have over 250 vulnerable young people waiting longer than 12 months for an appointment is particularly shameful," she added.

The Government has committed to increasing mental health funding under the confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fail.

Sunday Independent

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