Long wait for adolescent psychiatric care

The number of children and young people with psychiatric problems has doubled in the last ten years. Despite funding, authorities find it hard to keep up

Waiting lists for children and young people with psychiatric problems have grown longer and longer over recent years. Children waiting for treatment for disorders including anorexia, depression, schizophrenia and others have to wait several months for treatment, according to a status check-up by the National Board of Health.

The National Board of Health has been following developments in the area of children's psychiatry for the last three years. In 2005, 500 new cases were added to waiting lists for psychiatric treatment - an increase of 28 percent. Some 40 percent of them had to wait over three months, and four percent were left waiting over one year for treatment.

Thorstein Theilgaard, the secretary-general for Better Psychiatry, a union for families of victims, said the situation is a 'disgrace'.

'This is a terrible situation. You can discuss fairness of waiting lists in many areas, but when it comes to children and young people, they should be non-existent,' he told daily newspaper Politiken. 'When an eight year-old girl has to wait 15 months on a waiting list you can be almost certain that her situation has deteriorated and she becomes a by-product of a failing healthcare system in Denmark.'

Although the number of children and young people needing treatment has doubled in the last decade, a million kroner funding increase to children's psychiatry every year since 1996 has helped keep treatments more or less on par with the growing need. Still, there is a demand for additional treatment options.

From 2004 to 2005, the number of referrals rose 15 percent, or the equivalent of 1300 patients. Experts believe the rise is not due to an increased frequency of illness but a greater awareness from school and social authorities and parents resulting in more children being diagnosed with ADHD, for example.

'Previously people were concerned about combining children and psychiatry but over time it has become accepted that psychiatry can help children with some of their problems,' said Hanne Børner, clinical head of the adolescent psychiatric ward in Glostrup and president of the psychiatric society for children and young people.

Aside from the increase in diagnoses, a lack of specialists in adolescent psychiatry is also to blame for the longer waiting lists. Of the 636 positions for child psychiatrists available, 126 positions across the country are vacant.

Marianne Jespersen, of the National board of Health and head of its expert monitoring group, recommends an expansion of psychiatric care for children and young people. The expert group is also pushing for psychiatric health promotion in schools and institutions along with better support for vulnerable children and young people.

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