Lack of psychiatrists in Northern Ireland is 'impacting on mental health care'
People who require specialist mental health care face lengthy waits for treatment due to a shortage of psychiatrists working in Northern Ireland, it has been warned.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) said that one in 13 consultant psychiatrist posts in Northern Ireland are unfilled and this is impacting on service delivery.
It has carried out a UK-wide survey to establish service provision.
The RCP said the situation in Northern Ireland is particularly serious for specialist services where patients can wait for months for treatment following an initial assessment.
The worrying findings come at a time when perinatal services here have been shown to be scarce.
Northern Ireland still has no mother and baby unit, despite a recommendation by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority for such a facility to be created.
Currently, thousands of women who need treatment for mental health problems during or following pregnancy are at risk of receiving inadequate support. New mums who require inpatient treatment for conditions including depression, anxiety and postpartum psychosis are separated from their babies in order to access potentially lifesaving treatment.
Lindsay Robinson, a campaigner for better mental health services for pregnant women and new mums, has pledged her support to an RCP campaign to encourage more doctors to become psychiatrists.
She has been working with the RCP in Northern Ireland in calling for a specialist mother and baby unit and specialist perinatal community mental health teams.
She said: "A mother and baby unit has the potential to change lives, as does access to appropriate perinatal mental health team support.
"My story would've been very different if we'd had that available."
Dr Gerry Lynch, chair of the RCP in Northern Ireland, said: "It's important that the national UK census recognises that many posts remain unfilled in Northern Ireland.
"We can't recruit to permanent posts and are having to rely on temporary locum cover, which is expensive and risks continuity of care as well as gaps in services such as perinatal mental health.
"We've been campaigning for a mother and baby unit and for community perinatal services for a number of months now and without psychiatrists there would be no scope to boost much needed mental health services."