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Figures reveal sharp rise in children's mental health waiting times

The number of children waiting to access mental health services has increased (stock picture)
The number of children waiting to access mental health services has increased (stock picture)
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

There have been calls for action after it emerged there has been a six-fold increase in the number of Northern Ireland children waiting to access mental health services.

Official ministerial targets state no child should have to wait longer than nine weeks for a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) appointment.

Figures obtained by Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler, however, show that the number of patients who waited longer than this increased from 66 in March 2018 to 487 in March 2019.

“Whilst awareness of the importance of good mental health has grown significantly in recent years, along with ever improving forms of support, unfortunately these new figures suggest that there is a major shortage of capacity within the local system," Mr Butler said.

Of the 487 young people waiting longer than the maximum allowed period of 9 weeks, 294 were routine referrals for those who are experiencing mild/moderate mental health difficulties, and a further 179 were for those requiring support for more complex needs.

It has also emerged that the number of adults waiting longer that nine weeks to access mental health services increased from 648 in March 2018 to 1,529 in March 2019.

Mr Butler said he was "seriously concerned" that the current delays are causing "detrimental and lasting harm" to people in Northern Ireland.

“It is a scandal that as pressures are evidently building across our mental health services, the political impasse at Stormont is rumbling on," he said.

"Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rates throughout the UK, we also have by far the highest rates of poor mental health and yet we’re the only UK region without a current mental health strategy.

"The ‘Protect Life 2’ suicide strategy has been left waiting on a shelf simply because we don’t have a local Minister in place to push in through.

“This latest revelation that the numbers of people waiting for mental health support or intervention are spiralling should be more than enough to force the two main political parties to get their act together and agree the immediate restoration of the Assembly.”

In 2018, 305 people took their own lives here in Northern Ireland - an increase of eight from 2016 - with male suicides up from 221 in 2016 to 234.

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