SYDNEY, N.S. - Cape Breton emergency doctors treating children and youth with mental illnesses will soon routinely make experts at Halifax's IWK children's hospital their first contact.

Dr. Alexa Bagnell, head of psychiatry at the IWK Health Centre, said Tuesday that in the past consultations were sometimes provided by adult psychiatrists who were willing to assess older adolescents at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.

She said as of Jan. 2 under the new policy, physicians treating children and adolescents who come to the Sydney hospital emergency will routinely make the IWK their first call via a telephone service.

Dr. Julie MacDonald, head of mental health and addictions service at the Sydney hospital, said between eight and 25 children or adolescents monthly are seen at the emergency department, with about one third requiring further psychiatric consultation.

Some general practitioners in Sydney have been critical of the shortages of child psychiatrists, saying that children should be receiving more direct care in Cape Breton.

Dr. Margaret Fraser, a family practitioner in Sydney, has told The Cape Breton Post the on-going shortage of psychiatric services for children and youth is troubling in a city that has seen three child suicides over the past year.

Greg Boone, a spokesman for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said during a news conference that the province is attempting to recruit new child psychiatrists to Cape Breton.