A lone father of four from Wexford town is at his wits end due to a lack of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) available in the county.
A member of the Wexford Mental Health Warriors group who have been campaigning on the issue for some time, the man, (from this point referred to as John to protect the identities of his children), says that CAHMS services in Wexford for his children are 'non-existent' and on a couple of occasions when his son was self-harming, he was forced to make a near 200km journey to Cork just to have him seen.
Of John's four children, two of them require the services of CAHMS. While the younger has issues with ADHD and is on the autism spectrum, his eldest suffers with autism, ADHD and has been diagnosed as bi-polar. This can manifest itself in a lot of ways, however, sometimes he can be prone to violent outbursts and has self-harmed on a number of occasions.
'It varies day to day,' lone parent John explains. 'There are a lot of behavioural issues with both of them. My eldest is prone to depression and when things were at their worst and he was self-harming, we were forced to make a 440km round trip to Cork. It was the nearest place he could be seen. You're not even guaranteed a bed. At the end he was seen and we were told to turn around and bring him home again.'
'As a parent of a child with special needs, all I want is a proper full-time child psychologist for Wexford,' John continued. 'They don't realise, but that 440km to Cork is a long way to travel when you've got a child that's depressed and self-harming.'
On the couple of occasions where John's son has been admitted to Wexford General, he said it was 'totally unsuitable' and there was no facilities or personnel there to deal with a child presenting with suicidal ideation.
'He had attempted suicide,' John outlined. 'Wexford General Hospital was just completely unsuitable for him. 'At one point they found a butter-knife under his pillow. He tried to choke himself with his headphones. It was just awful and they weren't equipped to deal with it.'
CAHMS services in Wexford have been in dire straits since consultant paediatric psychiatrist Dr Kieran Moore resigned last year, stating that the situation here was 'untenable and unsafe'. At the time he cited dangerously low staffing levels and a building that was completely unfit for purpose in Slaney House as being behind his decision.
Since then, Wexford has only been covered at weekends by a consultant paediatric psychiatrist who travels across from Galway. John, however, says that his children only have access to the consultant on an emergency basis.
While the HSE has confirmed that it will be relocating CAHMS services from Slaney House to the refurbished Arden House in Whitemill, it's something which has been delayed.
'We were told it was coming in September of last year,' an exasperated John said. 'Then we were told the first quarter of this year. Now they're saying it'll be August or September of this year. Apparently it's gone to tender phase at this stage, but as a parent, my biggest fear is that it's being kicked further and further down the line. If they have proper facilities, they'll get the staff. If my son tried to hurt himself today, he would still be brought to Wexford General Hospital. There are no beds for someone like him in this county. He'd be facing a wait of between seven and thirteen weeks for CAHMS, by which time you'd be hoping as a parent that he'd have pulled through anyway.'
'Of the 12 staff that should be in Slaney House, there are only five now,' he continued. 'It feels like the HSE don't see the problem with the CAHMS service. Slaney House is completely unfit for purpose. They can't even carry out examinations on the children because there's no blinds on the windows.'
In another shocking example of the ineptitude of the system, John says he was greeted with a huge waiting time for his son to gain access to a behavioural therapist.
'I contacted the disability service about getting him access to a behavioural therapist,' he said. 'They came back and told me we'd be waiting about two and a half years to be seen. By that time my son will be an adult and will be starting out in a completely different system.'
John added that his children currently have no access to an occupational therapist, speech and language therapist or any other services that they so urgently need.
'We're not the only family going through this,' he said. 'There are plenty of families in Wexford that are coming up against exactly the same problems.'
Fianna Fáil spokesperson for mental health James Browne TD agreed that until Arden House is up and running, Wexford 'hasn't a hope' of attracting a child psychologist to replace Dr Moore.
'We've had promise after promise and Arden House has still not come to fruition,' he said. 'I do believe it is going to happen at this stage, as tender documents have been signed, but without Arden House it would be almost impossible to get a replacement child psychologist for Wexford town. There is a massive shortage of child psychologists at the moment and they can pretty much choose where they want to work. To say that Slaney House is unfit for purpose is putting it mildly.'
Deputy Browne added that even when facilities are up and running at Arden House, there would be no guarantee of attracting a replacement child psychologist, but said that the new building would give Wexford the 'best opportunity'. He also pointed out that while there should be 118 beds across the country for children with mental health issues, there are currently only 76, of which only 47 are operational. 'My heart goes out to (John) and other parents that are in this horrendous situation,' he said. 'They're fighting for their kids and are doing their best to keep the issue in the spotlight, but the fact of the matter is they shouldn't have to be out fighting for basic services.'
While the HSE are estimating that Arden House should be up and running by late August, it remains to be seen how long it will take for Wexford to attract a child psychologist. In the meantime, John and other families are set to continue their protests in the hopes of forcing the issue and finally seeing some meaningful change.