Ombudsman: Treatment guarantee must be implemented also in psychiatric care
Ombudsman Riitta-Leena Paunio takes the view that the Helsinki and Uusimaa Joint Health Care Authority acted unlawfully and neglected its statutory duties when it failed to arrange treatment for an eating disorder patient within three months, which is the maximum period stipulated in the Act on Specialised Medical Care for treatment that has been found to be medically necessary. Although the Joint Authority was aware that it would not itself be able to provide the treatment within this time limit, it did not arrange an opportunity for the patient to receive treatment from another service provider without delay and within the statutory period.
The Ombudsman has issued a reprimand to the Helsinki and Uusimaa Joint Health Care Authority for having acted unlawfully and has asked its board to report, by the end of the year, on the measures that it has taken to bring waiting times for treatment at the eating disorders clinic into compliance with the law.
The complaint to the Ombudsman was made by a person who had been told that there was a 10-month wait for treatment at the eating disorders clinic. Neither a request from Peijas Hospital that the case be treated as urgent nor a letter from the patient to the Head Physician at Lapinlahti Hospital expedited admission to Lapinlahti psychiatric hospital for treatment. No written reply to the letter had been received. The patient was told by phone that there was not enough staff. The patient had to wait about a year before being admitted for treatment.
The Ombudsman emphasises that the treatment guarantee must be implemented also in the specialist psychiatric sector. According to information that she has received, however, waiting times for treatment at the eating disorders clinic have continued to lengthen and at present can be up to two years. The number of eating disorder patients has grown and, under a distribution- of-labour agreement, responsibility for treating them resides in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area with the Helsinki University Central Hospital.
The head of psychiatric medicine at the hospital has explained that the main factor contributing to lengthening waiting times is shortage of personnel. The psychiatric unit has for three years in a row proposed the allocation of additional resources to the eating disorders clinic so that access to treatment can be provided within the time limit stipulated in the treatment guarantee. Additional resources have not been allocated; instead, the difficult economic plight of municipalities has been cited.
The Ombudsman also pointed out, arising from the complaint, that the eating disorders clinic had acted contrary to good administrative practice in that the patient had not received a written reply to the letter sent.
Additional information will be provided by Senior Referendary Kaija Tanttinen-Laakkonen, tel. + 358 (0)9 432 3377.