Tue | Dec 6, 2016

UHWI to get children mental-health ward

Published:Sunday | November 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Nadine Wilson-Harris, Gleaner Staff Reporter

The Government has allocated $60 million for the construction of a specialised unit at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) for the treatment of children and adolescents with mental-health challenges, as the demand for access to services for this group increases.

In making this disclosure during a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, consultant psychiatrist Dr Wendel Abel explained that children are currently being treated on wards with adults.

"The physical work has not started, but the plans have been drawn up and discussions are ongoing. So we expect the construction to start early to the middle of next year," said Able.

Main problems

The UHWI now admits between 75 to 80 adolescents per year for the treatment of mental-health problems and according to chief executive officer of the hospital, Dr Cecil White, the common mental-health problems are behavioural problems such as deliberate self-harm, learning and academic problems, and substance abuse problems.

"A lot of these problems are linked to trauma, especially sexual abuse," White told The Sunday Gleaner.

"The hospital would be better equipped to deal with these children if we had more inpatient beds and more specialised staff such as child psychiatrists, child psychologists and social workers," noted White.

According to the CEO, the hospital has one full-time child psychiatrist and three sessional psychiatrists, although there is a need for three full-time psychiatrists and six psychologists to provide efficient and responsive service to children and adolescents.

Although Ward 21, the hospital's psychiatric ward, was originally established as an adult unit, administrators were forced to start admitting adolescents when the demand for psychiatric care increased. Some of these children are referred to the hospital by government agencies.

"The residential service accounts for a small percentage of the children and adolescents we treat, as the majority of patients require other levels of intervention. Children and adolescents may be admitted to our unit as full-time patients or they may attend our day hospital services.

"The hospital operates a 24-hour emergency service and patients do not have to be referred to access treatment. The majority of children are referred from the educational system, a significant number are referred from the Child Development Agency, and others are referred from the correctional services and non-governmental organisations," explained White.