As a small country, fluctuations in the number of people graduating with psychiatry degrees are expected, but the current shortage is a trend that the chairman of the Icelandic Psychiatric Association calls shameful, reports Fréttablaðið.
Iceland has a very strong specialist training and several doctors have specialised in psychiatry in recent years, but the country will not meet the number of psychiatrists needed in the future if this does not change soon, says Karl Reynir Einarsson, chairman of the Icelandic Psychiatric Society and chief physician of the Department of Mental Health in Reykjanes.
No psychiatrists have graduated in Iceland since 2018 and there has not been a regular master’s programme in psychiatric nursing for many years. The University of Iceland will launch a new programme this autumn to address the deficit.
According to Landspítali’s informal assessment, the hospital’s psychiatric service needs at least fifty full-time nurses, ten specialized psychiatric nurses and ten psychiatrists, along with other professionals.
There are currently no contracts between independent psychiatrists and the Icelandic Health Insurance, which Karl says creates some uncertainty. “It’s very difficult to plan your work for the future when there are no agreements and it’s very unclear what the direction is. Specialists have filled the gaps in the system because they haven’t defined any groups of their own, like in some places where we create teams and sometimes very specific groups,” says Karl.
Certain groups, however, have often been left out of the system. “One in particular. The services for autistic people with mental health problems are shameful in Iceland and below reproach,” says Karl.
The situation is dire, both for practicing psychiatrists and for the patients who wait. “Some psychiatrists have chosen to work well beyond the normal retirement age, even into their 80s. There’s just so much to do and it’s hard to stop,” says Karl, adding, “and when they and many more who have come of age are heading for retirement, there will be a snowball effect on the system. So it’s better if there’s someone to take it over.”
However, Karl says he senses a change of attitude within the health system with the arrival of a new health minister. Better days are ahead for this band. “I think it is quite clear that there was no special goodwill on the part of the former Minister of Health towards private health care. But now, with a new health secretary, one hopes there will be a new attitude towards private healthcare, because I believe it is very cost-effective and, where appropriate, good. I have great faith that Willum will be able to make a difference in these matters,” says Karl.
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