October 01, 2007 10:28 ET

Schizophrenia Society Calls on Gov't to Reduce Psychiatric Wait Time

Schizophrenia Society of Ontario Calls on Government to Reduce Psychiatric Wait Times - Despite its profound impact on society, mental health remains near the bottom of the health care priority list.

Attention: Assignment Editor, City Editor, Health/Medical Editor, News Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor TORONTO, ONTARIO, PRESS RELEASE--(Marketwire - Oct. 1, 2007) - The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO) is calling on the Ontario Government to include psychiatric care and treatment for people with mental illness as a critical component of the Provincial Wait Time Strategy.
"With the provincial election looming, and health care wait times at the top of the debate agenda, it's time for the Ontario Government to step up and reduce psychiatric wait times in the province," says Mary Alberti, Executive Director, Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. "Mental illnesses need to be treated with the same urgency and the same standards of care as life threatening physical illnesses."

The SSO is also calling on party leaders, candidates and MPPs to make care and treatment for mental illness a "priority issue" for Election'07 and far into the legislative and policy-making future.

Since 2004, the Ontario Government has invested $614 million to reduce wait times in five priority areas with a high level of disease and disability: cancer surgery, cardiac procedures, cataract surgery, hip and knee replacements, as well as MRI and CT exams.

Although overall spending on mental health care has increased, the slice of the health care pie allocated to mental health programs keeps getting smaller - going from 5.3 % of the total health care budget in 1998 to 3.3 % in 2007. Moreover, the number of beds for acute psychiatric care is steadily decreasing; during the past five years, there has been a loss of 279 mental health beds in the province.

"Ontario's mental health system is under funded and under staffed," says Dr. Richard O'Reilly, President of the Ontario Psychiatric Association. "A significant portion of the population, one in five people, will experience a mental illness. Despite this, and despite the profound impact on society, mental health remains near the bottom of the health care priority list.
SSO is specifically calling for a three-part strategy:
1. Wait Times for Psychiatric Care and Services
The SSO calls on the Ontario Government to increase funding to the mental health sector so it is possible to adopt the benchmarks for access to treatment set by the Canadian Psychiatric Association. Specifically, individuals experiencing conditions such as psychosis or major depression with thoughts of suicide should be seen within 24 hours of a referral and individuals with less severe conditions should be seen within 4 weeks.

2. Wait Times for Assessment in Hospital Emergency Rooms
SSO also calls for adequate resources to be provided to hospitals so they can meet the triage guidelines set by the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians for assessment and admission of people in psychiatric distress:
- Extremely agitated people with acute psychosis should be seen by a physician within 15 minutes of assessment by triage nurse;
- People who are suicidal and/or psychotic should be seen within 30 minutes.

3. Wait Times for Access to Medications
The SSO calls on the Ontario Government to ensure open access to all psychiatric medications when clinically indicated for people with mental illness and to reduce wait times for new treatments for serious mental illnesses by approving innovative new psychiatric medications in the rapid review process identified in Bill 102.
Fast Facts - The Impact of Treatment Delays
* Treatment delays can have serious consequences including deterioration of a person's condition, homelessness, suicide, criminal activity and violent behaviour.
* While the government focuses on wait times for selected physical conditions, the wait times for persons with mental illnesses keep getting longer. Individuals with serious mental illnesses are waiting four to six months and more to see a psychiatrist.
* Ontario's children and youth struggling with a mental health issues are waiting an average of 5.5 months to get an appointment with a mental health specialist. More than 1,600 have been waiting for more than a year for community-based mental health care.
* Unlike many disabling physical illnesses, the onset of many mental illnesses occurs before the age of 18. These can be serious, life-long illnesses. Untreated mental illness interrupts education and many promising children drop out of school.
"The government has already made substantial improvements in wait times in five key areas of physical disabilities for adults as well as pediatric surgeries," says Alberti. "Now is the time to ask the politicians to fix wait times for psychiatric care and services to ensure that children and adults with serious mental illnesses are also treated sooner."

- 30 -

About The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario
The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario offers programs and services across the province that support, educate, engage and empower families affected by schizophrenia.
SSO Mandate
* To support, educate, engage, and empower families
* To promote community awareness
* To advocate on behalf of families affected by schizophrenia
* To work cooperatively with organizations for allied disorders
* To support and advocate for relevant research
* To promote early intervention
/For further information: For More Information, please contact Ursula Lipski, Director of Policy and Research, Schizophrenia Society of Ontario at 416-449-6830 ext. 233; or Dr. Richard O’Reilly, President of the Ontario Psychiatric Association at 905 827-4659 or 519-455-5110 Ext. 47240, richard.o'


Contact Information

  • Ursula Lipski, Director of Policy and Research, Schizophrenia Society of Ontario
    Primary Phone: 416-449-6830 ext. 233