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Doctors forced to work hours far above legal limits due to severe understaffing – IMO

Dr Matthew Sadlier, Consultant Psychiatrist, Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, Dublin representing the IMO, will inform the committee today that chronic underfunding, lack of facilities, understaffing and limited referral pathways for doctors means “we have neither the capacity, staffing or specialist services in place to adequately respond to children seeking assistance”.

Funding for mental health services makes up 6.1 per cent of the HSE’s total operational budget. In 2006, A Vision for Change, the framework document for the future of mental health in Ireland, stated 8.24 per cent of total health fund spending should be directed to mental health services.

Just 67 child and adolescent mental health teams are in existence out of the 95 recommended in A Vision for Change, based on current population. In addition, only 66 Child and Mental Health Service inpatient beds are in place. A Vision for Change recommended 100 beds were required “as a matter of urgency”.

The Committee will hear that doctors are forced to work hours far and above legal limits due to severe understaffing. Referring to a particular 24 hour on-call mental health service provided in North Cork, Dr Sadlier said three non-consultant hospital doctors had been forced to each provide 70 hours of on-call cover per week on top of their normal 39 hours weekly work provided by each doctor.

Some 68 children were admitted to adult psychiatric units in 2016, representing approximately 18 per cent of all child admissions. According to the IMO, GPs have no alternative but to refer to acute hospital settings when a patient’s illness reaches a certain level of severity as there are no established, relevant and property resourced referral pathways for GPs to access on behalf of young patients.

Dr Sadlier said: “In many ways mental health awareness has never had a higher profile, with many prominent public figures acknowledging their own struggles with mental illness and, encouraging others to seek help. Sadly, however, while as a society we may encourage our young people to access the help they need, the reality is that at the end of March this year, 51 per cent of referrals to Children and Adult Mental Health Services were waiting over three months for an appointment. This is not acceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.”

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