HSE Chief Paul Reid insists the health service has been “investing heavily” in mental health services across the country.
He was speaking to Newstalk Breakfast after the Taoiseach ordered an audit of every HSE Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) in the country.
Micheál Martin announced the move after a report found that ‘significant harm’ was caused to 46 children at a South Kerry service between July 2016 and April 2021.
Mr Reid said the “shocking” report highlighted the fact that children came to the HSE to receive care but instead, “they received harm”.
He moved to reassure families and children across the country that there is a strong mental health service out there offering them a range of supports.
He said the HSE is investing heavily in mental health services – but it can be difficult to fill senior roles in rural areas.
“In terms of the resourcing of it, we have been investing significantly,” he said. “This is a very challenging area to recruit into all across the country.”
“We do have, across the 73 CAMHS teams, 80 senior clinical psychologists in place – and it is not just clinical psychologists, there are multi-disciplinary teams in place across the country with a range of expertise that contribute to young mental health teams.
“But there are some gaps in some areas and it is difficult, particularly in some parts of the country, not just in terms of mental health, with attracting clinical expertise.
“A lot of senior clinical experts want to be operating in urban centres and in the bigger centres so there are pockets of the country where, not just in terms of mental but in other areas of expertise, it is a challenge to recruit.”
He insisted there are “well-resourced multi-disciplinary teams across the country” and said new guidelines set down in 2019 should help ensure what happened in South Kerry does not happen again.
“That is what we will be now assessing to give the public reassurance across the country, is in terms with the compliance with those standards across the country,” he said.
"Trying to do the right thing"
Mr Reid said the report notes that the doctor at the centre of the controversy was not setting out to do harm but said a “whole set of factors” led to the harm that was caused.
He admitted that the HSE had several opportunities to take action since the situaiotn was first highlighted in 2016.
“There were, in many ways, people trying to do the right thing but there was a whole set of factors contributing that were not addressed properly,” he said.
“Yes, there were various points in time where the escalation should have happened stronger and interventions could have been made earlier. People were trying to oversee and do the right thing, but it was only in September 2020 that the community organisation was alerted to the potential significant of this and then a whole set of triggers and actions took place including the appointment of Dr Sean Massey to carry out this review and report.”
He said the HSE’s immediate focus is ensuring the affected children and families get the supports they need.
The HSE is also auditing the other CAMHS services across the country to ensure they are following the guidelines set don in 2019.