Parents whose children have special educational needs (commonly referred to as SEN students) often have difficulties locating a specialist clinic, especially in a community with little knowledge of child and adolescent psychiatry.
The long delay in seeking treatment will only put the SEN students at risk because timely treatment is always crucial to recovery.
Psychiatrists have to make medical prescriptions, arrange in-patient service and direct therapy sessions such as occupational therapy and psychological therapy. They also need to communicate with the parents, teachers and social workers. All these take a huge amount of time.
All the seven hospital clusters managed by the Hospital Authority offer psychiatric services for children and adolescents. Their new patient registration system involves more or less the same steps as in any other specialist out-patient unit. They require a referral letter from a registered medical practitioner, except for the New Territories West Cluster which also accepts referrals from social workers or school teachers.
Together with the referral, parents should carry relevant birth certificates to the outpatient department for an interview. During the new appointment interview, a registered nurse will collect adequate information from the patients and their parents to assess whether they need to meet with the doctor, determine the date for a follow-up check-up and decide whether group psychotherapy is needed.
The waiting time for new case bookings at public hospitals usually take over a year, and as such the first assessment with the nurse is very critical. Parents are advised to provide the nurse with their children’s behavioral report at school for a more comprehensive assessment so that a suitable follow-up plan can be formulated.
There are cases where a patient is unable to be arranged for a meeting with a specialist doctor or the waiting time is too long. A patient whose case is worsening can go directly to the emergency room for a re-assessment, or consider seeking medical help from a private doctor.
Private medical service can be costly but parents should not give up looking for some economical options, like the outpatient service of a private hospital in Sham Shui Po, where they can have an initial check-up with the doctor within a few weeks of waiting.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 6.
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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