Shortage of psychiatrists could lead to painfully long waits for treatment

Scotland news
16 November 2022

A shortage of psychiatrists could lead to painfully long waits for treatment in Scotland. 

The warning comes as research by the College found that there is only one consultant psychiatrist for every 10,250 people in Scotland.

For children and young people’s mental health there is only one CAMHS consultant psychiatrist for every 16,351 persons, aged under 18.

RCPsych in Scotland recently welcomed news of investment to create extra doctor training places – including 15 psychiatry places.

But with the cost-of-living crisis and crippling waiting times on the rise, the College is now calling for a guarantee that 10% of the health budget is given to mental health and that it receives its fair share of funding.

It is also calling for 1% of what is spent on health to go towards the mental health of children and young people by 2026.

The pleas come as the College launches its Choose Psychiatry campaign in Scotland - to encourage more junior doctors to choose psychiatry as a specialism.

Dr Jess Sussmann, policy lead and consultant psychiatrist at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “What we have is a perfect storm brewing. Workforce pressures have never been so tight and now we have the cost-of-living crisis not to mention fallout from the pandemic to add to the list.

“That’s why we’re appealing to the Scottish Government – that they must act now.

“Although we very much welcomed the news of 15 more psychiatry training places, we still need significantly more investment in our workforce.

“We need to ensure that demand for psychiatric care can be met in the future and that trainee doctors continue to pick psychiatry as a specialism to help us keep up with demand.”

Abbie Bonnyman (20) is a third-year student studying psychology at the University of Stirling

At 15 she was diagnosed with anorexia and was admitted to a 24-bed psychiatric ward in Glasgow after her weight plummeted to 6½ stone after her grandparents passed away.

Admitted to hospital for six months, Abbie had to wait three months for psychological input whilst she was in hospital.

As soon as she reached a healthy weight, she was discharged quickly but relapsed and was readmitted just two months later.

Abbie said: “Although I was referred quickly, when in hospital I had to wait three months for psychological treatment, which wasn’t ideal.

“I think it consequently prolonged my suffering and actually led to me engaging in self-harming behaviours.

“When I eventually got that treatment and reached a healthy weight, I was discharged but admitted two months later. I think this happened because there was a lack of medical staff and a need to free up beds.

“My outpatient experience was very positive, and I felt like my psychiatrist listened to me, but in hospital I felt it was just a matter of keeping me safe rather than helping me get better mentally.

“I had two doctors in hospital but had to wait days to see them when I wanted to suggest an important change in my treatment plan, which was very likely due to understaffing.

“I got through my treatment and I’m now happy and healthy, but others need that help now. Without psychiatrists there is no mental healthcare system.”

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