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HK Magazine Archive

Hong Kong Psychiatrists Still in Low Numbers, Overworked

There are only 357 psychiatrists responsible for the city’s population of over seven million.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 February, 2016, 12:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:57pm

Are you depressed or anxious? Good luck finding a psychiatrist.

The latest data from the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists, obtained by HK Magazine on Tuesday, shows that there are only 357 psychiatrists responsible for the city’s population of over seven million. Twenty of those psychiatrists are retired and work part-time, if at all. 

And according to an OECD report in 2012, developed countries have 15 psychiatrists available to every 100 people. That means Hong Kong now has only a third of the psychiatrists available in other affluent societies.

Compounding the problem of shortages, psychiatrists working in the public sector have to see 30 to 40 cases in one shift. So while one person in the UK spends 20 minutes with psychiatrists, a Hongkonger only has six minutes with a psychiatrist, on average.

“This disillusion has led to resignations from many colleagues with high aspirations,” says Phyllis Chan Kwok-ling, the co-vice president of the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists. “Substantive action from the government is required to address the severe shortage of the workforce in psychiatry.”

Chan says that discrimination against those with mental illnesses at the government level holds patients back from seeking care in the private sector, which can overload psychiatrists working in the public sector. Most insurance in Hong Kong lacks coverage for mental health, and the government has yet to make a commitment to an overarching mental health policy.

The waiting time for a new case in the public sector is three to four years. Only 124 medical students are now in training to become psychiatrists.

It's been an ongoing battle for the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists. In September 2015, spokesperson Chan Lap-kei brought up major concerns over the manpower shortage, saying that psychiatrists usually just have minutes to decide if a patient’s condition is dangerous.

In December 2015, president of the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists Eric Chen Yu-hai wrote in a letter to the Legislative Council that the “workforce gap inevitably results in overloading, low morale and burnout among psychiatrists.” He further wrote that the lack of time to properly care for patients “leads to a sense of frustration and helplessness among busy frontline psychiatrists.”

The Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists urges the Hospital Authority to acknowledge mental illness as a disability, to increase the budget for training medical and health professionals in the sector, and to plan ahead for long-term, sustainable manpower.