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Concerns that children will struggle to be seen by Louth mental health service over Christmas

One local GP said they are concerned that young people experiencing mental health issues will be impacted over the holidays.

PRIMARY CARE PROVIDERS in the Drogheda area have expressed their concerns after GPs were informed that there would be an increase in the already significant wait time to see the Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) service in the Co Louth area over the Christmas period. 

Last week GPs received a letter informing them that there would be no consultant psychiatrist cover in the Elms CAMHS service for the next four weeks, and so “no action can be taken on referrals received within this period”. 

Elms is one of three teams that provides the main HSE child and adolescent psychiatric services for all of Co Louth.

GPs were instructed to “share this information with the families” they are referring to the service. 

Doctors were further to send any “emergency psychiatric presentations” (patients experiencing mental health crises) to emergency departments. 

The HSE told The Journal that this letter was sent out “without the knowledge” of  Louth and Meath Health Services.

It added that the local Community Healthcare Organisation is aiming to hire a locum to cover future absences, and that it has now arranged internal cover for the next four weeks, meaning that some new referrals will be reviewed on a “prioritisation basis” during this time. 

One local primary care provider told The Journal that the communication they have received in the last week has been confusing, and has left them worried about how young people being referred to the service could be impacted in the coming weeks.  

They said they are concerned by this development given that there is already “incredibly poor access” to mental health services in the area.

The GP added that, with the Christmas holidays soon to begin, referrals only being reviewed on a priority basis over the next four weeks is “awful timing”, and will affect some of the “most vulnerable people and families”.

The medical professional said that it does not “sit right” with them that young people will have even less access to CAMHS over what is, for some people, a particularly challenging time of year.

Figures released in August of this year showed that there has been a significant increase in the number of young people waiting to be seen at CAMHS for first time appointments in the HSE area covering Co Louth, with the numbers almost tripling over three years. 

The figures, which were released to Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on mental health Mark Ward, showed that in July of this year 737 young people were waiting on a first-time appointment, compared to 270 in July 2020. 

345 children had been waiting for more than three months for their first appointment in July of this year. The number of children waiting between 39 and 52 weeks more than quadrupled from 15 to 61.