Mental health professionals file mass claim over waiting lists

Patients and mental health care professionals have filed a mass claim against the state and health insurers over “unacceptably long” waiting lists for people needing psychiatric care.

The claimants say that the state is not providing enough money to combat the problem and that insurers are actively neglecting their duty of care by not buying in enough mental health services. The claim states that both the state and the insurers are jeopardising the right to life and access to care.

Some 100,000 people were waiting for psychiatric care at the end of last year, the Dutch care authority NZa said although the true figure is nearer 78,000 because one in five people are included more on the waiting list more than once.

Just over half of this group are having to wait longer than is responsible given their condition, which in the most urgent cases includes trauma and depression, officials say.

Research by the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam has shown that for every extra month on the waiting list, a patient’s chances of getting back to work in the long term falls by 2 percentage points.

The investigation also showed that shortening waiting times by even one month could yield over €300 million a year.

Psychiatrist Manon Kleijwegt, one of the claimants, said insurers are not contracting the services of thousands of psychologists and psychiatrists despite the long waiting lists. Insurers, she said, are simply skimping on psychiatric care and are sitting on an annual  €300 million surplus mental health care budget. The health ministry has since said this is no longer the case.

If that money were to be allocated to the GGZ mental health clinics, the waiting list would disappear, she told broadcaster NOS.

“Sometimes insurers tell professionals as early as May that they cannot take on more patients covered by a certain insurer because the end of the budget is in sight.

“This can lead to dramatic situations for patients. Next it’s negotiations with insurers to see if we can treat extra patients after all. And that happens at least three times a year, with different insurers. It’s a complete waste of time,” Kleijwegt said.

Court case

The claimants hope that the insurers see sense but if not, the case will go to court at the end of this year.

Professor of health law Martin Buijsen said the claimants have a chance of winning. “Insurers would have to show they are unable to fulfill their legal duty of care and that looks unlikely in this case,” he said.

A spokesman said insurers are serious about their duty of care and that the government care accord includes measures to reduce waiting lists. A spokesman for long-term care minister Conny Helder said the waiting lists are an “issue for concern”.

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