Mental health patients stuck on waiting lists 'end up more unwell'
Patients suffering from mental health problems are becoming more unwell and need more medication or hospital admissions because they are not seeing a psychiatrist on time, doctors warned yesterday.
Dr Donal O'Hanlon, a psychiatrist and president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, said: "There is a lack of joined-up thinking currently in the delivery of mental health services.
"The resourcing of our mental health services is 'in limbo'.
"Because of this, patients cannot access the range of talk and behavioural therapies that should be available to them in a modern mental health service, while in parallel, the State's spend on medication to treat patients with mental health difficulties is growing.
"For example, the HSE's spend on antidepressants has grown to more than €40m per annum.
"Medication, while an important part of treatment for many patients, must be part of a wider care programme, supported by a range of therapies provided by a full team of mental health specialists.
"The consultant crisis is severely impacting on the delivering of health services to many of our most vulnerable people."
Dr O'Hanlon added: "It's now the new norm that many consultant psychiatrist posts advertised nationally either have no applicants or only one applicant.
"This leads to two outcomes - these posts remain indefinitely empty, or non-specialists are temporarily appointed to specialist psychiatry posts.
"Both are contrary to the delivery of safe and timely mental health services.
"Ireland, with 6.1 consultant psychiatrists per 100,000 population, has just half the EU average number of specialists and one-third to one quarter the number in many EU countries."
He was speaking as part of the ongoing #CARECANTWAIT campaign, which is highlighting the shortage of specialists in Ireland.
His concerns were echoed by consultant psychiatrist Dr Selena Pillay, who said: "This is not good for patients; we need to get them at an earlier stage of their illness."
Dr Pillay added: "Patients on waiting lists become more unwell... they potentially need more medications and require more admissions."
Patients should be seen by mental health services within 12 weeks.
However, recent figures show one in four was waiting longer.
Some 2,498 children and 3,764 adults are waiting to get an appointment with mental health services.