GAVAN REILLY: If there’s no face to a scandal, nothing gets done about it

“It’s funny,” my producer said as we were walking out of the Newstalk studios at the end of last Sunday’s show. “After everything that had been in the news all week, you’d have thought there’d be something in the papers about CAHMS.”

I was less surprised. The report from the Mental Health Commission on the deplorable state of the country’s juvenile mental health services had rightly made news at the start of the week, but had come so early in the week that there was little left to say by the time of the Sunday papers. But moreover, scandals like the shoddy state of CAMHS nationwide are one of those curious stories that everyone agrees are worthy, but few (other than those directly affected by it) are a genuine scandal.

It's easy to understand why. Youth mental health services are hardly the sexiest of topics; the language of health system is arcane and mystifying, making it hard for the uninitiated to truly understand – even the acronym is ugly and impenetrable, like a dodgy Scrabble hand – and crucially, there is no easily identifiable scapegoat.

There’s no public face to CAMHS; no national figurehead who can get dragged onto Prime Time to explain how their system is so indispensable yet so dysfunctional. When Bryan Dobson or Colette Fitzpatrick need someone to speak competently at national level about a series of simultaneous local screw-ups, who do they call? Talking to a junior minister is no use; longtime readers will know that the junior minister for mental health (Mary Butler) herself professes powerlessness – and most of the systemic issues would long pre-date her anyway.

And so the families whose lives are held hostage by a deficient health system remain in limbo, with necessary services either financially unaffordable or banjaxed by public disfunction. Weary exhausted adults see their children’s lives irreversibly deteriorate through a cocktail of under-resourcing and careless administration.

The even more demoralising part is that CAMHS is only one example of it – of a morass that sucks the life out of the families affected, but doesn’t make a ripple anywhere else. Another is the system of Community Disability Network Teams, a relatively novel system where the HSE correctly deduced that therapies for children often need to be delivered in tandem and so are better organised by local teams, rather than national officials.

But what on paper seemed ideal, in practice is farcically understaffed: there was never a surplus of speech and language therapists, or occupational therapists, but now that the finite few are attached to a specific territory, there’s little or no scope to work across them. The patchwork of individual teams ought to have ensured more continuity on the ground, but instead just means creating scores of independent teams that can share neither personnel nor best practice across their boundaries. And because so many local teams effectively sub-contract the services to a local charity, each team reinvents the wheel figuring out how to make it all work – gobbling up more time with bureaucracy that should be about services.

And there’s no national face to the scandal; no responsible, empowered voice to bring on the news, so it won’t change any time soon.