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28 March 2024 - Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) calls on the HSE to immediately lift embargo on recruitment

The HSE’s current and ongoing embargo on recruiting Health and Social Care Professionals, including social workers, is having a very significant impact on the capacity to provide a social work service to young people and their families attending Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), as well as to those awaiting engagement with CAMHS services. Not being able to recruit where vacancies arise is leading to unacceptable risk to safe practice, with significantly negative implications for the wellbeing of a very vulnerable cohort of young people and their families, with a further knock-on impact on their wider communities.

Social workers, who work from a systemic and holistic perspective and a social justice standpoint, play a key role in assessing and treating young people presenting with moderate to severe mental health disorders.  In addition, social workers also provide leadership within CAMHS, fulfilling our safeguarding obligations and ensuring that the welfare and best interests of the young people attending our service are central to our practice.

Social work is already poorly resourced in CAMHS across the country, with actual allocation to social work posts averaging 40% of that envisaged by the Vision for Change recommendations. This also needs to be considered in the context of growing demand for services, especially post-Covid. Speaking in a Dáil Debate last month (on 27 February 2024), on the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill, 2023, Minister of State Mary Butler TD stated that: 

It is important that everyone recognises there continues to be a substantial and growing demand for CAMHS services. Between 2020 and 2021, referral rates into CAMHS increased by 33%, while the number of new cases seen increased by 21% over the same time. The 75 community teams nationally are currently delivering approximately 225,000 appointments for children and young people every year. There are 820 [multi-disciplinary] staff working across the country in CAMHS services. I understand, based on provisional data received today from the HSE, that in 2023 there were 12% more appointments offered to children through CAMHS than in 2022... At the end of last year, provisional figures show that there were 3,759 children on the CAMHS waiting list… down from 4,239 in December 2022... I welcome this reduction, but my focus is to keep reducing this waiting list week on week, month on month. Improving access to modern mental health services requires that the waiting lists for CAMHS services be addressed.  

The IASW agrees wholeheartedly with Minister Butler that the enduringly damaging waiting list levels for CAMHS are unacceptable and must be addressed. Those waiting list levels can only be addressed by allocation of adequate staff numbers and related resourcing. The current HSE recruitment freeze is blocking the service development required and we therefore call for the immediate end of the HSE’s recruitment embargo as it impacts on CAMHS services.