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Dangerous wait times for children

Wairarapa site for 3DHB mental health services. PHOTO/HELEN HOLT

‘Sobering’ 20 day wait for youth mental health services

Young people struggling with mental health are facing a 20-day wait to see specialists in Wairarapa.

A spokesperson for the 3DHB [Wairarapa, Hutt Valley, Capital and Coast], which oversees mental health services in the region, confirmed that post-referral children and adolescents were waiting an average of 19.8 days to see a mental health professional.

New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists executive adviser Paul Skirrow said the waiting list was sobering.

“They say to get into the DHB service, you have to be almost suicidal. People might die waiting.

“The problems become intractable if you’re waiting almost a month to be seen. The longer you wait, the harder it is to treat.”

Lakeview School learning support co-ordinator Erin Williams said she had 20 years of experience with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service [CAMHS] in Wairarapa and said getting children seen could be a nightmare.

“Once they are on the roll, CAMHS are great, but the process of getting them there is hard work.

“They only take 1-3 per cent of the cases referred.”

She said if parents were not on board, it was impossible for children to receive the treatment they needed.

“Children can’t give consent, so they will ring the parents. If there’s no answer, they will send them a letter.

“If the parents don’t respond to that, then they will give up and close the case.”

Williams said she had spoken with CAMHS about improving its communication with the schools.

She recalled referring one child to CAMHS whose parents were supportive, however faced immense opposition from the service.

“CAMHS kept saying it wasn’t the right place for him.

“The process was completely unfair, and it went on for months. The family was already under immense pressure, and they had doors shut in their faces. It was awful.”

She said once the boy was in the door, he received the help he needed and was doing well, but said the stress of getting him there was unnecessary.

“If I hadn’t been there to help and stand up for them, he wouldn’t have got in, and the cost would’ve been greater long term.”

Williams said CAMHS was under tremendous pressure itself, and resourcing issues for child psychologists had only been exacerbated by covid.

“The reality is they don’t have the people. Psychologists are in hot demand. There’s a worldwide shortage.”

She said CAMHS should provide parents with alternative services when children were turned away, such as To Be Heard or Changeability Trust.

Wairarapa College principal Matt White said the school was lucky to have the service.

“We’d like to see more support for the students who need it, but overall my experience has been positive.

“The team are under-resourced, but so is everyone. We’re dealing with a range of shortages in the health sector.”

Psychologists in Wairarapa are in short supply, with 34 people waiting for a face-to-face appointment with a specialist.

The region has suffered a significant drop in the number of full-time equivalent [FTE] psychologists in recent years, from 4.8 FTE at Wairarapa Hospital in 2018 to 1.4 FTE in 2020.

Mental Health, Addiction and Intellectual Disability Service executive director Karla Bergquist said any young person who presented with mental health issues was assessed and referred to the appropriate mental health service.

She said psychologists were not always the first option for a referral.

“In July 2022, 100 per cent of young people referred to Wairarapa were seen within three weeks from referral.

“The average wait time figure does not reflect the number of people referred urgently and seen within a few days by the team.”

CAMHS is advertising a 0.6FTE position for a clinical psychologist in Wairarapa and has 1.8 FTE psychologists out of the 2.4 FTE positions allocated.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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