A new report from the Australasian College of Emergency (ACEM) on access blocks and long wait times for mental health presentations in emergency departments highlights a major funding problem for mental health care in Australia and New Zealand, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has said.
‘Mental health services in Australia and New Zealand are chronically underfunded and this often leads to delays in care,’ RANZCP President Dr Kym Jenkins said.
‘In parts of Australia and New Zealand, we have significant shortages of psychiatrists, not enough acute inpatient beds for people experiencing mental illness, and poor access to community care and support programs. All of these are issues that contribute to significant stress on the emergency department system.
‘Hospitals across Australia and New Zealand need new strategies and more funding to increase the number of psychiatrist, trainee positions, and psychiatric inpatient beds, so that people with serious mental health presentations do not have to wait hours in an emergency department for appropriate care.
‘Alternative models of care, especially services offering out of hours care, also need to be explored as a means to help reduce the pressure on emergency departments.
‘The RANZCP welcomes many of the recommendations made in ACEM’s report, and echoes calls to address the chronic underfunding of community-based services, as well as alcohol and other drug treatment services.
‘However, the RANZCP considers ACEM’s proposals to institute reporting of cases involving extreme waiting times for specialised care inappropriate.
‘Mental health patients already face enormous stigma, and there is a real risk that strategies like mandatory reporting would exacerbate that stigma,’
‘It is hard to deliver optimal mental health care in emergency departments. Long delays in emergency departments are unacceptable for all patients especially for those with mental illness who can feel discriminated against.
‘ACEM’s report shows that the emergency systems for people with mental health presentations are not adequately responsive to these patient’s needs.
‘It is the RANZCP’s view that to improve outcomes for mentally unwell patients in the emergency departments, urgent work and partnerships to increase resources, and improved training for all staff who are involved in looking after them in an emergency department setting, is needed,’ Dr Jenkins said.
For more information see The Australasian College of Emergency Medicine ‘Mental Health Access Block report’.
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The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit www.ranzcp.org