Varadkar ‘disturbed & worried' over revelations of deficiencies in mental health care

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he has ‘no doubt’ that compensation will be paid to children who were over-medicated in the care of a mental health service.

The Fine Gael leader told the Dáil on Thursday that he was ‘very disturbed and very worried’ by a HSE report which found that 46 children had suffered ‘significant harm’ while attending South Kerry Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

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Many of those families have begun High Court actions seeking compensation for the damage done to their children between 2016 and 2021.

Varadkar ‘disturbed & worried’ over revelations of deficiencies in mental health care
© Provided by Extra.ie Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he has ‘no doubt’ that compensation will be paid to children who were over-medicated in the care of a mental health service. Pic: Fran Veale

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Mr Varadkar said the report’s findings ‘could not be defended’ and that the State has to put in place supports and services that may help to ‘rectify and remedy the harm that was done’.

He said: ‘That would range from good-quality psychiatric care for the children in need of it to other supports for the families to help them manage and deal with what has happened.’

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Mr Varadkar told Labour leader Alan Kelly that financial compensation will also have to be paid.

Varadkar ‘disturbed & worried’ over revelations of deficiencies in mental health care
© Provided by Extra.ie The Fine Gael leader told the Dáil on Thursday that he was ‘very disturbed and very worried’ by a HSE report which found that 46 children had suffered ‘significant harm’ while attending South Kerry Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire

‘I am sure it is absolutely the case that it will be necessary to provide financial compensation to many of the families affected by this. These are clear failings in care, clearly not up to basic medical standards,’ he said.

‘I have absolutely no doubt that families will bring cases forward, that they’ll need to be assessed and that compensation payments will need to be made.

‘That is a lot more complicated than it seems because each case is individual. But we’ll need to find a mechanism to do that and we have had some initial discussions about how that can be done and done in a sensitive way.’

Varadkar ‘disturbed & worried’ over revelations of deficiencies in mental health care
© Provided by Extra.ie Mr Varadkar said the report’s findings ‘could not be defended’ and that the State has to put in place supports and services that may help to ‘rectify and remedy the harm that was done’. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire

He continued: ‘The most important thing that we must try to do is put this right, and that means that the families and the children affected are provided the services and supports that they need.

‘The HSE needs to be generous and forthcoming in that regard. There won’t be any financial barrier from the Government when it comes to providing them with the services and supports that they need. We have done that before in previous instances like CervicalCheck, where packages of support were put in place for families and patients. That needs to be done now.’

The Tánaiste said the Government will consider issuing an apology and that this will be up to Taoiseach Micheál Martin. However, Mr Varadkar said it is important that any apology is thought through and done right.

Varadkar ‘disturbed & worried’ over revelations of deficiencies in mental health care
© Provided by Extra.ie Mr Varadkar told Labour leader Alan Kelly that financial compensation will also have to be paid. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

The HSE has already apologised after the report found 227 children managed by one junior doctor had a diagnosis or ‘risky’ treatment that exposed them to the risk of significant harm. Thirteen other children were found to have been unnecessarily exposed to a risk of harm under the care of other doctors in the service.

There was clear evidence of significant harm caused to at least 46 children. This included the production of breast milk, considerable weight gain, sedation during the day, and elevated blood pressure.

The report said the junior doctor appeared to have a lack of knowledge about good practice. It noted that he had no consultant clinical lead, meaning there was no regular supervision of his work.

Varadkar ‘disturbed & worried’ over revelations of deficiencies in mental health care
© Provided by Extra.ie The Tánaiste said the Government will consider issuing an apology and that this will be up to Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Pic: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

In addition, when concerns were first raised about the non- consultant doctor in 2018, ‘no effective action was evident to address them’.

HSE chief Paul Reid apologised on Thursday, calling the findings of the review ‘deeply regrettable’, ‘beyond comprehension’ and ‘just so wrong’.

He said: ‘The report very clearly demonstrates some of the basic clinical oversight and prescription processes and general management processes were at least lacking, if not in some cases abandoned. This no doubt had a very significant impact on many children, which the report sets out, and indeed on many of their families, and none of us can bear to think how we might feel if one of our children went through what some of these families and children have had to go through. So, as CEO, I certainly want to sincerely apologise for what happened over a sustained period.’

Varadkar ‘disturbed & worried’ over revelations of deficiencies in mental health care
© Provided by Extra.ie HSE chief Paul Reid apologised on Thursday, calling the findings of the review ‘deeply regrettable’, ‘beyond comprehension’ and ‘just so wrong’. Pic: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Mr Reid also said the HSE valued the public’s trust and confidence, ‘and there’s no doubt what occurred in this instance and in this service severely impacts that trust and confidence’.

He concluded: ‘The team we have in place there now, the executive clinical director and the community officer, are highly committed and fully embracing all aspects of the recommendations as set out in the report.’

Meanwhile, the Children’s Rights Alliance has called on the Government to urgently establish a national independent advocacy service for young people using mental health services.

Varadkar ‘disturbed & worried’ over revelations of deficiencies in mental health care
© Provided by Extra.ie Mr Reid also said the HSE valued the public’s trust and confidence, ‘and there’s no doubt what occurred in this instance and in this service severely impacts that trust and confidence’. Pic: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Its chief executive, Tanya Ward, said: ‘This is the one of the most damning reports published on mental health services for children. It demonstrates failures at all levels: clinical failure, management failure, oversight failure and administrative failure.

‘It’s deeply disturbing that young children were subjected to psychotropic medication – for normal emotional responses – leading to devastating consequences. Children will have lost years of their life because of this treatment.’

She questioned how children, young people and families could have confidence in CAMHS following the report.

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, said there was ‘a massive betrayal’ of the children and families involved. He said these were families looking for help for their children ‘at their lowest ebb’.

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