Experts complain

Poor medical care for our children

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11.07.2024 16:22

Finding a pediatrician with a health insurance contract is becoming a gauntlet for many parents. Children with ENT problems have to wait a year for surgery appointments. These are just two examples of how care for the youngest children is in disarray. What's going on in Austria? Experts discussed this at a press conference.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for families to find a pediatrician with a health insurance contract, especially in rural areas. In Lower Austria, around one in four posts are vacant, in Upper Austria one in six. In some districts, there are no longer any pediatricians with a health insurance contract, meaning that parents have to travel very long distances to find one. And once one has been found, it is not uncommon to be told: Admission freeze!

This is because more than half (54%) of the statutory health insurance pediatricians in Vienna are unable to take on new patients due to their workload. These are just some of the alarming facts presented by experts at a press conference today - and which leave parents in particular speechless.

"Both the respective healthcare services and health insurance funding are very unevenly distributed regionally in Austria. There is a real 'patchwork quilt'. Most of the services are not geared towards need, but have grown historically," adds Dr. Caroline Culen, Managing Director of the Austrian League for Child and Adolescent Health. There are serious deficits, particularly with regard to mental health care.

Families with chronically ill children have a particularly difficult time
There is also still a massive lack of free diagnosis and therapy places for children with chronic illnesses or developmental delays. Only one in three children receives therapy fully or partially funded by social insurance, it was reported.

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In this country, we would need six times as many speech therapists and seven times as many occupational therapists who charge their services to social insurance companies.

Prim. Dr. Sonja Gobara, Obfrau der Politischen Kindermedizin

"Compared to the level of care in Germany, we would need six times as many speech therapists and seven times as many occupational therapists who bill their services to the social insurance funds," explained Prim. Dr. Sonja Gobara, chairwoman of Politische Kindermedizin, an association of pediatricians and adolescent physicians.

"In view of the time windows, for example for language development, this is simply unacceptable, with all the consequences for children's education," she adds.

There is also a need for improvement in the socio-paediatric outpatient clinics, where children with complex developmental delays and chronic illnesses and/or impairments are cared for. These outpatient clinics are scattered across the whole of Germany without any planning or management, but have nowhere near the necessary capacity, and often have waiting lists for the various therapies or even general admission blocks, the experts criticize.

Underprovision in the psychosocial field too
The situation is also dire in the psychosocial field (psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy): There is a lack of care due to incomplete care structures in rural areas and the lack of cost coverage by social insurance in the private practice sector.

A survey conducted by the Children's League in 2022 showed that, according to 79% of all psychotherapists and clinical psychologists surveyed, the need for psychosocial or therapeutic care exceeds the current supply by 45%. The average waiting time for such treatment at the time of the survey was around 3.8 months.

Low-income families at a clear disadvantage
Those who can afford it take their child to an elective doctor or therapist and get a place more quickly this way. "However, this is an insurmountable hurdle for many families and contradicts equal health opportunities and equity," criticizes Dr. Caroline Culen, clinical and health psychologist, managing director of the Austrian League for Child and Adolescent Health and board member of the Professional Association of Austrian Psychologists (BÖP).

Prim. Gobara adds: "The residual costs for therapies in private practices, aids and remedies, elective medical or elective therapy fees make it difficult for children and young people from economically disadvantaged families to access healthcare services."

No kindergarten for the chronically ill?
In Vienna alone, 1,400 children are currently unable to attend kindergarten due to a disability or chronic illness - not even in the compulsory kindergarten year, to which there is even a legal entitlement. "Children with a disability or chronic illness are often not admitted to kindergarten because there is no one willing to take on the necessary medical or nursing care, even though the liability issue has long been clarified," reports Dr. Irene Promussas, pharmacist and chairwoman of Lobby4Kids.

She sees hope in the competence center for inclusion, which the MA 10 wants to set up in Vienna. From fall 2024, funding and staff will also be available as soon as two or more affected children are to be included in a kindergarten group.

In recent years, numerous organizations and institutions have made efforts to improve children's health, but these have so far only led to partial success.

The experts' demands
For this reason, the Austria-wide campaign #besserbehandelt.at has now been launched to draw attention to the shortcomings in the care of children and adolescents in Austria, some of which are still serious. "We are calling on a future federal government to assume its responsibility and ensure free, comprehensive, adequate care without discrimination against children with disabilities or chronic illnesses or from financially disadvantaged families," appealed Prim. Gobara.

This article has been automatically translated,
read the original article here.

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