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Psychiatrist shortages are a ticking timebomb

This opinion piece is over 7 years old
 

Sophie Pilgrim says dramatic action is required to ensure young people with psychiatric needs are prioritised

Figures from the latest recruitment round from NHS Education Scotland highlight that many higher specialty training jobs for child and adolescent psychiatry, as well as for learning disabilities, are vacant.

In the most recent national recruitment round for jobs starting in August 2014, just 5 out of 13 higher specialty training places for doctors in child and adolescent psychiatry were filled. On top of this, just one doctor was recruited for 9 training slots caring for people with learning disabilities. Go beyond the central belt and this situation is even more acute.

Sophie Pilgrim, director of Kindred
Sophie Pilgrim, director of Kindred

In August 2013 no one had been recruited to any of the eight slots caring for people with learning disabilities. In addition, just five out of eight training positions for child and adolescent psychiatry were filled.

Indeed, since 2011 only 22% of training post vacancies for doctors caring for those with learning disabilities has been filled and just over half (51%) of those dealing with child and adolescent psychiatry.

These figures are clearly very alarming and in all likelihood it is the children and young people requiring these services the most that will be disadvantaged. The lack of recruitment now means impact in two or three years’ time with an almost guaranteed increase in waiting times for psychiatry and psychology services a consequence.

Too many families are being left without support for distressing symptoms such as self-harming and challenging behaviours, with many parents left with little alternative than to demand residential care because they reach the end of their tether. As a charity working with many families, we can see that child and adolescent mental health is seriously under-funded within the NHS.

Too many families are being left without support for distressing symptoms such as self-harming and challenging behaviours, with many parents left with little alternative than to demand residential care

Recent figures from City of Edinburgh Council indicate a threefold rise in those diagnosed with Autism in the early years in Edinburgh, figures that should come as no surprise and are in part due to greater awareness of these conditions. However this also highlights the rising demand for the expert skills of psychiatrists, which will only serve to increase over the next years.

Under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 a statutory duty is placed on local authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils, something that will become under scrutiny and pressure as the numbers requiring services increases.

In this context, we have written to the Scottish Government to ascertain what measures are being put in place to ensure that this shortfall is addressed as urgently as possible safeguarding the needs of the most vulnerable in our society ensuring that they are not disadvantaged any further.

High level strategic management is required in order to get a grip on this critical situation and we need urgent action to improve recruitment into these specialisms and to support and encourage medical schools in training in psychiatry or mental health through a more flexible training regime.

Sophie Pilgrim is director of Kindred, which advocacy and information on services available to children with additional support needs. She is also a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition.

 

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