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Shortage of psychiatrists

The country is facing an acute shortage of psychiatrists. Today, there are only three psychiatrists and all of them are stationed at the National Referral Hospital in Thimphu. As a result, patients from other districts are experiencing difficulties in accessing mental health services as they have to travel all the way to Thimphu.

The national referral hospital witnessed over 3,000 cases of mental health issues last year alone, ranging from mental and behavioural disorders caused by alcohol to depression and anxiety.

Dr Damber Kumar Nirola, a psychiatrist at the national referral hospital, says that the number of cases continues to rise.

With no psychiatrists available in regional and district hospitals, the doctors at the national referral hospital are burdened with attending to more than 30 patients per day.

This situation hampers the provision of quality medical services.

Psychiatrists reveal that most cases from other districts are currently being consulted over the phone.

“We get patients all the way from Shingkhar Lauri. We see lots of patients lined up. So, the quality of service actually gets hampered. Actually, psychiatrists should be able to see a maximum of 10 patients a day. From the projection we made a few years ago, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital alone need five to seven psychiatrists and every regional hospital should have a minimum of three psychiatrists,” said Dr Damber Kumar Nirola.

When patients and attendants from the districts have to visit the national referral hospital, it comes at a huge cost.

“My child has been sick for three years. I took her to Gelephu Hospital, but there was no psychiatrist available. The health staff advised me to go to Thimphu, but financial constraints prevented me from bringing her here. To cover the treatment expenses, I had to sell my cattle. If there was a psychiatrist in Gelephu, it would have reduced our financial burden,” said Jashmaya Mongar, a patient attendant.

“We came from Samtse to access psychiatric services, facing numerous difficulties. There may be others who are unable to visit the hospital due to the distance. It would be beneficial if at least one psychiatrist was available in our district,” said Merwaba Mardil Uroan, another patient attendant.

According to the hospital’s records, the highest number of mental health cases last year involved mental and behavioural disorders caused by alcohol and substance abuse, followed by anxiety and depression. The annual health bulletin also reveals an increase in the number of mental health cases over the past five years.

According to the health ministry, a new psychiatrist will join the national referral hospital soon.

Ugyen Dorji

Edited by Tshering Zam