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At least five psychiatrists have resigned from London's LHSC. Now what?

Amid a growing mental health crisis, a handful of psychiatrists have resigned from the London Health Sciences Centre after problems with management in the department, sources have told CBC News.

The resignations come as the country faces a national shortage of psychiatrists

London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is facing a shortage of psychiatrists. (Dave Chidley)

Amid a growing mental health crisis, a handful of psychiatrists have resigned from the London Health Sciences Centre after problems with management in the department, CBC News has learned. 

Sources say at least five psychiatrists at the LHSC have resigned in the last few months, and more departures could be coming. 

It's not the first time the department has had problems. 

CBC News requested interviews with hospital officials but those requests were declined. 

"Despite some recent resignations, we are committed to delivering high-quality patient care and continuing to build our program," Dr. Chandlee Dickey, the chair and chief of psychiatry at the hospital, said in a written statement. 

"London Health Sciences Centre is experiencing challenges recruiting and retaining psychiatrists, mirroring a trend seen throughout North America. One contributing factor to our challenge is that the rising global demand for psychiatry has not yet been matched by an increase in medical students selecting psychiatry as their area of practice."

As for what's next, officials say they will search for replacements.

"We continue to focus our efforts on recruitment and believe that LHSC is an attractive destination to practice psychiatry," wrote Dickey.

Problems with management

But sources within the psychiatry department at the hospital, as well as those who have recently departed, say that poor leadership and mismanagement have been the common factor for all of the psychiatrist departures, except for one. 

Some of the psychiatrists who have resigned are those who assess admitted patients in other departments, sources said.

The entrance to Victoria Hospital at the London Health Sciences Centre. (Dave Chidley/CBC)
 

Victoria Hospital's psychiatric intensive care unit is frequently at capacity and has been at 100 per cent occupancy for each of the last seven days, a spokesperson for the hospital told CBC News. 

Psychiatrists have for months been wearing pink wristbands with the words "Stop the Stigma" as a form of silent protest over a hospital policy which sees patients flagged as potentially violent forced to wear purple armbands. The psychiatrists say the policy unfairly targets mentally ill patients.

The hospital got funding for new mental health beds but has been having trouble recruiting new psychiatrists to staff those beds. 

The "Stop The Stigma" wristbands being worn by some London psychiatrists. (Supplied)

The lack of psychiatrists in Canada has been a problem for years, and has no simple solution, said Dr. Paul Kurdyak, the medical director of performance and director of the health and performance evaluation research unit at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. 

"I don't think the problem will be solved with increasing the supply of psychiatrists. It's expensive, it takes a long time. I don't think this crisis in access can wait nine years," Kurdyak said. 

"The demand side is equally as complicated. Help-seeking behaviour is catching up to the existence of services. That transitional age group, of 16- to 25-year-olds, might be presenting with more conditions, but the bigger issue is that it's a generation that is getting more help, in the way that someone would seek help if they broke a bone." 

 'Massive rethinking'

Psychiatrists have to be deployed differently than they are now, Kurdyak said. He believes they should be integrated into family health teams and there should be fewer incentives for them to leave hospitals for private practice. 

"The fee schedule allows people to open a private practice, and that's not an efficient way to deploy that person. We have to have a massive rethinking of the role the psychiatrist in the medical system." 

In the South West Local Health Integration Network, in which London is located, almost half the psychiatrists are close to retirement, according to Kurdyak's review of psychiatric numbers. 

About the Author

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.

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