There has been a massive rise in the number of children and adults having to wait longer than the nine-week target time to access mental health services in Northern Ireland.
According to Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) figures, the number of young people waiting longer than nine weeks to access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) increased by more than 600% between the end of March 2018 and the same time this year.
The organisation’s ‘Performance Report – 2018/19 End of Year Assessment’ also reveals that the number of people waiting longer than nine weeks to access adult mental health services regionally more than doubled during the same period.
But the document said the waiting time position “improved in the final quarter of 2018/19”.
The HSCB report reveals:
• the number of young people waiting longer than nine weeks to access CAMH services increased from 66 at the end of March 2018 to 487 at the end of March 2019;
• the number of people waiting longer than nine weeks to access adult mental health services rose from 648 to 1,529 during the same period.
Ulster Unionist mental health spokesperson Robbie Butler MLA said the worrying situation, while Northern Ireland is still without a devolved government, is “a scandal”.
He said the issue should be the “number one political priority for everybody”.
Calling on all parties to get back to Stormont and begin tackling the issue, the former firefighter and Lagan Valley MLA said: “I realise different people and parties have different priorities, but if your number one priority isn’t saving and protecting lives then your priorities are wrong.”
Mr Butler warned that delays in accessing treatment and support could be damaging people’s mental health.
Stressing the importance of people with mental health needs being seen by the right person at the right time and in the right place, he continued: “I am seriously concerned that the current delays in both child and adult mental health assessments and treatments will be causing detrimental and lasting harm to some of the people unfortunately getting caught up in them.
“It is a scandal that as pressures are evidently building across our mental health services, the political impasse at Stormont is rumbling on.
“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 it 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.”
Calling for a review of mental health services across Northern Ireland, David Babington, the chief executive of local charity Action Mental Health, said: “The evidence exists that the sooner a person is treated for their mental health issue the more likely a positive outcome. The impact of extensive waiting times can only be negative.
“A whole system review across all age groups on mental health services is required, with recurrent funding, and this should be needs-led and form a mental health strategy.”
The HSCB was asked to comment on the figures and the impact the delays are having on young people and adults. It said it wasn’t in a position to provide a reply at the time of publication.