Psychiatrist shortage spells trouble for waiting patients in N.S.
Published Wednesday, April 25, 2018 9:08PM ADT
Nova Scotia’s Health Authority has admitted there is a shortage of psychiatrists in the province, although it won’t say how many are needed.
In the meantime, people who need mental health treatment are waiting months, and even years to see a doctor.
Baillie Tompkins says she waited eight months to see a psychiatrist, in that time she self-harmed and landed in the hospital.
“You feel helpless,” she says. “There’s only so much you can do for yourself and you know when you’re like, waiting and waiting and waiting and you don’t really know what’s going to happen.”
Tompkins had family support, and she’s now seeing a private psychiatrist but knows not everyone has that option.
According to the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the wait times for adults to get mental health treatment vary depending on where you live.
In Halifax the wait is 112 days, 363 in Sydney, 84 in Yarmouth and an 83 day wait in Amherst.
Sam Hodder is the mental health and addictions senior director for the province’s health authority.
She says they are working to improve those times, and the goal is to reduce it to about seven days for urgent cases and 28 days for regular cases.
“Psychiatry is very valuable to our system,” says Hodder. “We have been experiencing, to, some challenges in relation to recruitment and retention, so we have seen people exit our system.”
The health authority says two years ago, the physician resource plan said the province needed about 132 psychiatrists to meet the need.
Today, there are 22 vacancies.
The authority’s CEO says she’s waiting for an updated report to see if that number is still accurate.
“I can say to you that we don’t limit ourselves to numbers,” explains Nova Scotia Health Authority CEO Janet Knox. “We are listening, to, and recruiting people to come to Nova Scotia.”
But critics argue that in the last two years, the number of psychiatrists needed is likely even more.
“The stigma is reducing, people are coming forward for service,” says N.S. Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston. “We have cannabis coming down the pipe we have all, a whole variety of factors that would indicate the demand for services, so the 132 is dated and probably not enough. So we can’t even meet the 132, how are we going to meet the real number?”
A question people like Baillie Tompkins would like to see answered as well.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.