Child Psychiatry

Speech by Dan Neville TD on the Fine Gael Private Members Debate, Dail Eireann on the Health Services on 6th October 2010

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and congratulate Deputy Reilly for bringing it forward. I want to refer to an issue raised on “Morning Ireland” today, namely, the placing of four teenagers in adult psychiatric units in Waterford, which has drawn attention to a much wider problem. It must be remembered that 200 children were admitted nationally to adult units last year. This represented 55% of all the admissions of children and illustrates that the absence of age-approved centres for children and adolescents means this unacceptable practice is widespread.

Changes by the Mental Health Commission to the code of practice on the admission of children, after the numbers admitted to adult units rose between 2007 and 2008, were necessary and welcome. However, it must be remembered that the latest report of the commission shows that only five of the 64 approved centres were fully compliant with the code of practice, so there is much work to be done. More important, as the commission itself acknowledges, the lack of child and adolescent inpatient and day-hospital facilities is the crux of the issue.

There is an historic under-investment in child and adolescent psychiatric services, which has resulted in services which are either sporadic or non-existent. This situation has been allowed to develop despite the fact that in excess of 200,000 children have a mental or behavioural problem at any one time. The infrastructure is not in place to meet these needs and the lack of specialised services for young people has led to unacceptably long waiting lists and the admission of children into adult services.

For children to endure inappropriate accommodation in adult units is a gruelling experience and surreal in the context of 21st century Ireland. The reality is that unless the Government renews its commitment to the full implementation of A Vision for Change, the mental health policy, it is difficult to see how a community-based, person-centred mental health service, grounded in the principle of recovery, can be realised.