Almost half of mentally ill children referred for specialist help not being seen

The number of mentally ill children and teenagers being referred for specialist assessments are increasng
Seanín Graham

MENTALLY ill children are being referred to specialist services in Northern Ireland but increasing numbers are not been seen due to NHS shortages, a doctor has warned.

Dr George O'Neill, a Belfast GP, said referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were often "bounced back" due to a lack of resources amid increased demand.

New research published today by the Children's Commissioner reveals that more almost half of children and teenagers deemed to have serious mental health illnesses by their GPs were not seen by experts last year.

Dr O'Neill said the sector was "seriously under-funded", with more money invested in the acute sector.

"If a GP refers a child to mental health services then they have concerns. If it is decided that they cannot be seen, then CAMHS should try and refer them onto to a different team. But what we are seeing is many cases being bounced back to us and we need to find another service," he said.

"Children's services, mental health, learning disability and old people's services have been most affected by cuts, with the frail and vulnerable hardest hit."

The new research discovered that almost 8,300 children were referred last year to 'tier 3' services, which deal with young people who have a mental illness that has a "severe or enduring impact on their daily psychological, social and/or educational functioning." Of this total, 42 per cent were not accepted.

Northern Ireland Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma said they had compiled figures from across the five health trusts but no explanation was given for the gap in services..

"There is no data available to tell us why they have been refused by the service, where these vulnerable children go after they are refused, or if they receive another service or none, because the system does not record that data," she said.

"The rise in the number of children being referred to the service may mean more children are seeking help for their mental health - and that can only be a good thing.

"The investment and resource within these services must meet the need and this is not currently the case when for every pound spend on mental health our Government invest less that 8p on children and young people."

The Commission is carrying out a full review of specialist mental health care for children across the north and will publish its full findings in autumn next year.

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