I wish to bring an important issue about children's psychology services in Limerick to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and I ask them to take immediate action. I am very disappointed that the Minister is not here to answer for his decisions but I know that the Minister of State will relay my concerns.
Limerick early intervention service and school-age teams have written to parents in the region to say that only urgent cases for those children who attend the school-age children's services aged six to 18 years in Blackberry Park can now be dealt with due to the lack of psychology staff and resources and all other children are to be put on waiting lists. This is completely unacceptable. These services are vital for children. Everyone knows that early intervention is key to addressing many problems. I have been in contact with the service in Limerick and this is the very last thing that it wanted to do. It is completely overwhelmed and understaffed and receiving no help. In this letter, urgent cases are defined as children who are self-harming or have suicidal ideas, children who are hurting others and children whose school placement is at risk of breaking. This should not be the standard at which we provide these critical services. It is completely unacceptable that children, other than those in these extreme cases, are expected to go on waiting lists.
I brought this matter to the Minister's attention in February when I raised concerns about the waiting lists and lack of staff in the service in Limerick. At that stage the figures showed lengthy waiting times for children. I had hoped that by bringing it to the Minister's attention action taken. It is clear, however, that nothing has been done.
This problem has escalated severely since then. The lack of staff and resources in this service in Limerick is astonishing. I have been in contact with the senior clinical psychologist in the school age service, Dr. Moore, who has worked in the service for nine years. She said that when she started the caseload was 120 children but that it is now 410. Despite this, there is just one full-time and one part-time senior grade clinical psychologist to deal with the massive workload. Staffing has not increased despite the trebling of the caseload. How is this allowed to happen? How is this continuing?
The Government is currently deciding how much money it can put away in the rainy day fund. How can the Minister of State tell me that hundreds of millions of euro are better used by being left sitting in a bank account than by giving a tiny fraction to this incredibly important service for children? What does the Minister of State have to say about this and what actions will he take?