Charity offers low-income Hong Kong children mental health care as city waiting times hit 3 years

Mean waiting time at local public hospitals now a year and a half, and about 16 per cent of children in the city face a mental health issue

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 May, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 2:06pm

Twelve private psychiatrists have offered immediate mental health care to at least 400 children from low-income families who would otherwise have to wait up to three years to be treated publicly.

Variety, a charity, also aims to ease the pressure on public hospitals, which face a rising ­demand for psychiatric services from youngsters, with the number of cases seen by the Hospital ­Authority surging by 52 per cent from 2011 to 28,800 last year.

About 16 per cent of children in Hong Kong have mental health issues, ranging from emotional disorders to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, according to government data.

The queue for a consultation at public hospitals is also getting longer, with a mean waiting time of around 18 months, while for some it is three years.

But grass-roots families are left with no choice but to endure the wait as the cost of seeking alternative private treatment is substantial, at around HK$3,000 per monthly consultation.

Charity director Dr May Lam Mei Ling said a delay of a year or more may cost a child valuable study time and social opportunities during their prime years.

“Children from low-income families can be referred to the ­programme by doctors or social workers, and we are happy to treat them for free,” she said.

Lam said the charity, working with Caritas, provides patients with consultations and medicines until they are finally seen by a public doctor. The scheme began last August, and so far 12 specialists had seen 61 ­patients.

The teachers told me he is now more focused at school and his academic results are getting better
Mrs Lau, mother of scheme participant

A mother, surnamed Lau, said teachers of her seven-year-old son had complained about his ­inattentive behaviour and poor academic performance.

She was told to take the boy to a doctor, but the earliest available slot at a public hospital was in ­October 2018 – a wait of more than a year.

A social worker said the family could not afford a private doctor and referred the boy to the scheme. He was diagnosed with ADHD, and his condition is now controlled by medication.

“I am happy,” Lau said. “The teachers told me he is now more focused at school and his ­academic results are getting ­better. He used to score only 20 to 30 marks on tests; now he can get 60 or 70. I don’t have to worry as much.”

The children’s charity, formed in the US in 1927, has currently raised over US$1.8 billion to help 42 associations in 11 countries.

Lam said the local scheme could run for at least three years, taking care of some 400 children until they are seen by public ­doctors.

But she said its scope could be expanded if more funding and volunteers were made available.

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