Youth mental health services hit by lack of modern technology, HSE hears

Health services cannot ‘speak to each other efficiently’ without an IT upgrade, officials say

A modernised IT system is “critical” to deliver “necessary improvements” to mental health services for children and young people, the board of the Health Service Executive has been told.

The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) has been criticised by multiple reports, including in 2023 when the Mental Health Commission, which regulates the sector, identified serious risks to the safety and wellbeing of children accessing services.

At a meeting of the HSE’s safety and quality committee in March, Amanda Burke, national clinical lead for child and youth mental health, said it was looking to redefine key performance indicators for services to make them more useful for clinicians.

“However, without an upgrade of IT systems, the data used will not be consistently available,” she told the committee, which is one of five committees of the board.

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“The need for a modernised IT system was emphasised as critical to enabling the necessary improvements in, and oversight and governance of, Camhs as well as other mental health services,” minutes of the meeting state.

It was highlighted to the committee that services can’t “speak to each other efficiently” without an IT upgrade, resulting in “services being unduly separated for example, separation between disability and mental health”.

The committee was also told the two “main challenges” facing Camhs are “the recruitment pause and lack of multiannual funding”.

“There is a substantial level of investment required to improve sustainability of the service and to develop a comprehensive service model. Multiannual funding would greatly assist in this regard as, without it, services are in [an] annual cycle without comprehensive timelines or costs.

“In relation to the recruitment pause, the committee was advised that there was an adverse effect on small teams in Camhs composed of one staff member of each discipline and it was highlighted that the profile of staffing in Camhs is similar to disabilities which is not impacted by the pause.”

Last October, the HSE appointed Donan Kelly as national lead for HSE child and youth mental health office, with the office seeking to implement the Camhs service improvement programme.

The appointment came following a number of years in which the service faced criticism by various bodies.

In 2022, an independent report, called the Maskey review, into the treatment of children attending Camhs in south Kerry found the care received by 240 young people did not meet the standards it should have.

Significant harm was caused to 46 young people, including sedation and raised blood pressure in some cases.

It found “unreliable diagnoses, inappropriate prescriptions and poor monitoring of treatment and potential adverse effects”, which exposed many children unnecessarily to the risk of significant harm.

Separately, the Mental Health Commission in January 2023 published an interim report which identified serious risk to the safety and wellbeing of children accessing Camhs, including 140 “with open cases [who had] been lost to follow-up”.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times