Children in four year wait to see psychiatrist

By Nigel Gould- Belfast Telegraph

21 December 2004


Young Ulster people are waiting up to four years just for a first appointment with a psychiatrist, it can be revealed today.

Politicians are demanding more resources for such a service - following a number of teenage suicides in the province this year.

Latest statistics from Health Minister Angela Smith showed that one patient had to wait 1,456 days (at the Royal) for child and adolescent psychiatry assessment and another waited for 1,334 days at the Foyle Health Trust.

Elsewhere, patients have waited from anything between 111 days for an initial assessment to 986 days.

And as the shock figures emerged, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that due to a "shortage of clinical cover", Northern Ireland's in-patient Adolescent Psychiatry Unit remains closed for admissions.

West Belfast MLA Diane Dodds said the province needed a "regional suicide strategy".

"Despite the high number of suicides among teenagers this year, children and young people in the province are waiting up to four years for an initial psychiatry outpatient assessment," she said.

"Other children can't even get onto a waiting list.

"I have constituents with a child in Primary Two at school.

"The local Trust has responded to a GP referral for outpatient assessment stating they no longer provide that clinic.

"No alternative was suggested, and the family were left wondering where else they can turn."

Mrs Dodds was speaking after Mrs Smith revealed, in a series of Parliamentary questions from DUP MP, Iris Robinson, that a wide-ranging review of the services would be completed "towards the end of 2005".

She said there were seven patients in the regional Adolescent Psychiatry Unit but that it had been closed to admissions from August.

"Boards and Trusts are making every effort to care for existing in-patients and to reopen the unit," she added.

Mrs Smith said it had not been possible to operate on full bed occupancy because of "insufficient staff".

Mrs Robinson added: "We need to invest in more Child and Adolescent Psychiatry staff, not simply consultants but junior medical staff, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists and psychotherapists.

"The resources that we do have are overstretched."

She added: "The recently opened regional inpatient unit has been forced to close to admissions because of lack of out-of-hours cover.

"As a result young people requiring admission will be inappropriately placed on adult wards or forced to remain in other unsatisfactory facilities."