Children suffering from autism, attention deficit disorder and other mental health conditions have to wait 14 1/ 2 months on average for treatment at Hong Kong’s public clinics – up from 8 1/ 2 months just two years ago. The revelation highlights a severe lack of psychiatric services for children despite more of them requiring treatment. The number needing help was up 15 per cent in two years to 27,740, according to the latest Hospital Authority data submitted to the Legislative Council. Mrs Cheung is one of many parents left in limbo by the system. She described her “endless wait” for treatment for Chi, her four-year-old autistic son. “I sometimes feel very lost for my son,” she said. “He might cry crazily without any reason all of a sudden and roll on the floor.” Chi was diagnosed with autism in 2014 and referred to Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Tai Po, where he was scheduled to see a psychiatrist in November this year. ‘TripAdvisor for hospitals’ uses patient reviews to rank Hong Kong health care outcomes Before that, Cheung had to rely on herself to learn about the needs of autistic children – reading books for guidance and reaching out to services offered at her son’s kindergarten. According to Hospital Authority data, the median wait for new cases of children seeking treatment rose from 8 1/ 2 months in the 2013-2014 financial year to 14 1/ 2 months in 2015-2016. In contrast, the waiting period for overall psychiatric clinic services, including for adults, was 10 weeks. Children under 18 needing psychiatric help mostly suffered from autism, attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder, or behavioural and emotional disorders, the Legco paper said. The increase in the number of children aged between six and 11 years old was the largest, at 19 per cent. A severe shortage of manpower is hampering timely treatment. Currently there are around 330 psychiatrists employed in the city’s public hospitals – 400 fewer than the number recommended by the World Health Organisation, which says there should be one psychiatrist available for every 10,000 people. More young Hongkongers seek treatment for mental health problems, figures show The Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists estimated the manpower shortage in the field would not be resolved for 20 years. Only about 20 psychiatrists in the city’s public hospitals are working in the child and adolescent team, which requires more specific skills and timing to provide treatment, college spokeswoman Dr Phyllis Chan Kwok-ling said. She said normally it required two to three hours per session for a doctor to see new cases. “If these children do not receive treatment in time, their behaviour can deteriorate. It could affect their growth development. They may lose interest in their studies, and some may even end up giving up on school,” Chan said. With the wait at public hospitals so long, many cases have been referred to non-governmental organisations such as Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service’s Adolescent Early Intervention Service. Some children referred there had very serious conditions, including suicidal tendencies, and required frequent follow-up meetings once every week or two, said Esther Tang Man-hang, team leader of the service’s unit for young people with mental health problems. The education minister said yesterday his department had issued guidelines to schools on helping students who required psychiatric support.