Child and adolescent mental health service waiting times rise

Michelle O'Neill has put mental health issues at the forefront of her campaign as health minister to transform the system
Andrew Madden

THE number of young people waiting a prolonged period of time to see a mental health professional has increased dramatically.

According to current targets no one should have to wait longer than nine weeks for an appointment with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) – however this target was missed 130 times in the last year.

This figure represents an increase of 62 per cent on the previous year, and a rise of 136 percent from 2014.

In the year to the end of August 2016, the western trust saw the most delays, with 72 cases having to waiting longer than the target time.

In comparison, the Belfast trust saw 58 cases, while both the southern and northern trusts recorded no patients having to wait longer than nine weeks for an appointment.

Since assuming office in May, health minister Michelle O'Neill has made improving the mental health service in the north one of her key priorities, spearheading a number of campaigns to raise awareness and improve services for those suffering from mental health issues.

Ulster Unionist mental health spokesperson Robbie Butler said the figures were "deeply concerning".

"This is unacceptable and deeply concerning and raises grave issues over the levels of resource available to tackle mental health conditions," said the Lagan Valley MLA.

"As the UUP spokesman for mental health I have been advocating for a parity of esteem of funding and workforce planning for mental health services and these figures sadly confirm the current serious issues with mental healthcare provision.

"Standing still is no longer an option. I urge the health minister to ensure that adequate resource is made available to enable these already overburdened services to meet the NHS nine week target."

In response, the health minister agreed that the figures were unacceptable and said the solution is the "transformation of our health and social care system" which she detailed in her 'Delivering Together' programme in October.

The 10-year plan followed an independent analysis of the system conducted by a panel of experts, which found major issues surrounding waiting times, GP performance and overall healthcare strategy.

"I am firmly of the view that the current waiting lists are unacceptably long," she said.

"However, unless we tackle the root causes this will remain the case, as we have a 20th century model delivering services for a 21st century population.

"It is only in transforming the health and social care system and by implementing new models of care that we will be able to alleviate the pressures on our health and social care services, sustain improvements in waiting times and deliver better outcomes for patients."

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