Prime Time packs a punch

The power of Prime Time Investigates is that it forces the government to respond to issues such as care of the elderly and, more recently, mental-health facilities for young people



The Prime Time Investigates special on Monday 4 December on mental-health facilities for young people was a powerful piece of television. All the more so because of the cooperation of families who have been ignored by the state in the face of desperate need.

A young five-year-old, Jordan, was seen kicking, screaming obscenities, convulsed in a turmoil of disturbance to the distraction of his obviously caring parents. At one calm moment, Jordan spoke with chilling insight about his condition. “Its like someone is controlling me, like a robot. A robot that can't control itself. I can't stop it.”

His parents spoke of a year's wait for diagnosis, the prescription of a pill but no therapy, no help, no relief. The experts on the programme spoke of how this condition, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), can be handled if caught in the early stages. But they also spoke of the paucity of the public resources available to deal with it.

The programme said teachers had revealed that three-quarters of all classes are disturbed by children with mental-health problems. That one in 20 children in schools had been diagnosed as having mental-health problems and at least a similar proportion had undiagnosed mental-health problems.

Tom O'Malley, the minister for state with responsibility for mental health appeared on the programme and, in response to questions about the waiting time for even an initial consultation on mental health – waiting times in some instance of up to four years – he inferred that such statistics were manipulated by ego-maniacal psychiatrists who gloried in the number of patients on their waiting lists.

Aside from the insult this conveyed to psychiatrists, it underscored the public indifference to mental health, including the mental health of children. That someone of this calibre should be left with responsibility for this area says all that needs to be said about government concern.

The programme went on to feature others who had been neglected scandalously by the health services, including a poor man, Darragh, who at the age of 15 was told he was not wanted anymore. He had got involved in drugs and crime, spent some time in prison and is now on the streets of Dublin. Had he been given the treatment required when he was a child, he could have been spared that misery.

Another child was forced to spend four months in a general ward of the psychiatric hospital in Ardee. Jackie who was consigned, as a child, to St Kevin's in Cork, a byword for neglect, dilapidation, indeed the abuse of its adult and child inmates – and in saying this  I am not inferring the nurses and other professionals who tried to do their best were at fault, rather the likes of Tim O'Malley and those he represents.

Some of these children had tried to commit suicide, so miserable is their lives. Miserable in large part because of yet another abject failure by the state authorities to take  the elementary means of redress. Actually, not just failure, indifference.

It is blindingly obvious by now that this government (any government?) could hardly care less about children, in spite of all the posturing, the promises of constitutional amendments, the lowering of the age of consent, etc, etc. At every turn, when it comes to taking hard decision on the allocation of resources children lose out.

Prime Time has become a force. One wonders what further miseries old people in nursing homes would have had to endure were it not for the Prime Time report on Leas Cross. And the terrible reality is not that these exposés alert the authorities to what is happening and to the need for action. The authorities – ie the HSE and the Department of Health and Children – know full well what is going on. They knew everything that needed to be known about Leas Cross but did nothing about it. They knew, and know, about the scandalous inadequacies of the mental-health services for children and do nothing. The power of Prime Time is that it forces them to respond.

A reviewer is disposed to forgive RTÉ a lot in light of a programme like that Prime Time Investigates , but just one observation. Why base a programme on the systematic humiliation of young people? That is at the core of You're a Star. It is not everything the programme is about but it is intrinsic to it.

Why is that ok?