Waiting lists for mental health care also growing in private sector, especially for young people
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Waiting lists for mental health care also growing in private sector, especially for young people

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Waiting lists are growing in subsidised mental health care centres, but also in private practices of psychologists and psychiatrists in Flanders, especially for young people, a new report published by the State Mental Health Service (SGGG) on Tuesday found.

The current health crisis has worsened the existing problem of waiting times in mental health care, as 40% of psychologists and over 60% of psychiatrists in Flanders did not accept any new patients this spring, whilst 71.9% of those questioned reported an increase in the number of admissions since the coronavirus crisis.

The 574 participants who use a waiting list system said that, on average, there are 10.7 people on the waiting list. All waiting lists combined show there are over 6,000 people waiting to receive mental health care.

Meanwhile, the care providers also noticed an increase in the severity and complexity of the cases they were dealing with.

For people in younger age groups, waiting times are the longest, as just 35.8% of the care providers specialised in care for children and 42.2% who focus on helping youngsters have a waiting time of less than one month, compared to about 53% of the care providers with target group adults.

“The current capacity within child and adolescent psychiatry does not meet the needs,” the report, which surveyed more than 1,300 independent mental health care providers about waiting times and registration stops in their practices, stated.

“Waiting times within child and adolescent psychiatry are unacceptably long across the board: even in crisis situations, one is usually told that there is a waiting time for admission or mobile treatment. This undermines the children’s development. Priority should be given to the psychological and psychiatric support of children, adolescents, and their context,” the report read.

‘Impossible to find care’

The survey, which referred to examples that were brought up in participants’ responses, found that in some regions, it is almost impossible to find an available child psychiatrist.

The findings confirmed those of a previous study published by the GEMS, the advisory group to the Belgian government, in March, which found that the mental health of young people aged between 16 to 25 has been under the most pressure during the coronavirus crisis.

In April, Belgium announced that a budget of more than €20 million would be freed up for child psychiatry to hire extra staff and increase admission capacity in other hospital departments as an “immediate response to the growing need for psychological and psychiatric help for children, adolescents, and young adults.”

In a statement announcing the budget, Belgium’s public health minister Frank Vandenbroucke said that there has been a “clear increase in requests for psychiatric admissions for children and adolescents, including in the psychiatric departments of our general hospitals.”

“These children are in urgent need of help, but in the current situation, urgent admission is often impossible and parents are told that they have to wait six months before there is a place for their child,” Vandenbroucke said.

The findings of the report confirmed this increase in funding is necessary but also stated the need for a long-term plan to make the bottleneck profession more attractive during medical schools, as psychiatry is often seen as the least attractive,  mainly due to the distribution of salaries.

Meanwhile, the care providers who participated put forward a number of possible levers to do something about the problem of waiting times, including making the statute for independent caretakers more attractive and priority-subsidising and expansion of mental health care for children and adolescents.

The SGGG also wants to continue discussions with the competent Vandenbroucke and Flemish Minister of Health Wouter Beke, concluding that, “if a society can organise acute physical care during a pandemic, it should also be able to set up sustainable standard care for mental health problems.”