Malaysia is desperately lacking neuropsychiatric specialists, and this is highly worrying especially with the increasing number of patients in need of assistance every year, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad.
He said there are about 300 psychiatrists serving in the public sector but only four are specialists in the field of neuropsychiatry.
“In addition, there will be three neuropsychiatric trainees who will qualify within three years.
“Efforts to increase the number of neuropsychiatric experts are going at a very slow pace, and the need for these experts is rapidly increasing,” he said.
He was speaking at a press conference after launching the Neuropsychiatry Masterclass 2019 programme here today, which was also attended by Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) director Dr Heric Corray.
Neuropsychiatry is a psychiatric sub-field that is an overlap between psychiatry, neurology and general medicine.
It is a psychiatric field dedicated to conducting clinical and treatment assessments to neurologic patients showing cognitive manifestations (mental capabilities), emotional and behavioural changes.
Dzulkefly said the four neuropsychiatric specialists were now one each in Penang and Johor and two in Kuala Lumpur.
Hence, he said the government was intensifying its efforts to increase the number of neuropsychiatric experts to meet the pressing demand.
On the programme, he said it was an annual event organised by the Neuropsychiatric and Neuromodulatory Unit (NEURON) and the HKL Psychiatric Welfare Body since 2015.
He said the programme aims to share knowledge and increase participants’ awareness on how to evaluate and treat neuropsychiatric patients as this discipline was not widely known in Malaysia.
Among the examples of neuropsychiatric problems commonly encountered are emotional, cognitive, hallucinatory and delusional symptoms caused by Parkinson’s disease, emotional problems caused by epilepsy, young onset of dementia and behavioral changes due to brain injury and infections.
Dementia problems in young people and neurological problems caused by neurometabolic disorders often come with symptoms of mental disorders but they are often detected and treated late.
“So it is important that these patients get multidisciplinary approach from the field of neuropsychiatry, psychology, neurology, neuroradiology, neurosurgery, genetics, rehabilitation treatment and others for the best treatment,” said Dzulkefly.
Earlier in his speech at the opening of the programme, Dzulkefly said the neuropsychiatric service at HKL needed special attention as the number of patients receiving treatment had increased steadily since 2017, with 499 patients currently.
As of the first quarter of this year, 363 patients had received the treatment and it is expected that at least 1,500 patients will receive HKL neuropsychiatric services until the end of this year.