Countries worldwide are experiencing a third wave of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Government-imposed restrictive measures continue with undetermined effects on physical and mental health.


To compare child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) referrals over 11 months (January–November) in 2020, 2019 and 2018 and examine any impact the different phases of the COVID-19 restrictions might have on referral rates.


Monthly CAMHS Health Service Executive data were examined, covering a catchment population of 260 560 or 12.7% of all youth (age group 0–18 years) in Ireland. The total number of urgent and routine referrals, appointments offered, rates of non-attendances and discharge outcome are presented.


There was a significant drop in referrals in 2020, compared with prior years (χ2 = 10.3, d.f. = 2, P = 0.006). Referrals in 2020 dropped from March to May by 11% and from June to August by 10.3%. From September, both routine and urgent referrals increased by 50% compared with previous years (2018/2019), with the highest increase in November 2020 (180%). Clinic activity also increased from September, with double the number of out-patient appointments offered, compared with previous years (χ2 = 5171.72, d.f. = 3, P < 0.001) and lower (6.6%) rates of non-attendance (χ2 = 868.35, d.f. = 3, P < 0.001).


In 2020, following an initial decline, referrals to CAMHS increased consistently from September. Such unprecedented increase in referrals places further strain on services that are already underresourced and underfunded, with the likelihood of increased waiting lists post COVID-19. It is envisaged that once the pandemic is over, resources will be even more constrained, and CAMHS will be urgently in need of additional ring-fenced funding.


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Cite as

McNicholas, F., Kelleher, I., Hedderman, E., Lynch, F., Healy, E., Thornton, T., Barry, E., Kelly, L., McDonald, J., Kavanagh, G., Migone, M. & 2021, 'Referral patterns for specialist child and adolescent mental health services in the Republic of Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with 2019 and 2018', BJPsych Open, 7(3), article no: e91. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjo.2021.48

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Last updated: 20 July 2023
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