Mental health experts welcome SA Labor’s $182m health investment pledge

21 February 2022
 
 
 

Australia’s peak bodies for emergency medicine and psychiatry welcome SA Labor’s $182 million mental health investment pledge, and call on other political parties contesting the 2022 South Australian state election to outline their plans to fix SA’s broken mental health system, should they win.

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) say that Labor’s pledge, that includes 300 urgently needed public hospital beds – 98 of which are specialised mental health beds – would help relieve the crippling pressure on emergency departments and exhausted healthcare workers. It would also bring SA much closer to the national average of hospital beds per capita and help deliver South Australians the healthcare system they urgently need.

SA’s mental health crisis is directly linked to blown out ED wait times and ambulance ramping. Many ED beds are consistently occupied by patients experiencing mental health issues who need long-term mental health care but – due to a huge shortage in mental health beds in SA – have nowhere else to go.

More inpatient beds mean that people experiencing mental health issues requiring long-term care would have somewhere to go, freeing up emergency department beds, reducing hospital overcrowding, and releasing ambulances to leave the ramp.

In SA, approximately 1 in 25 people who seek care in ED do so because of acute mental health issues, yet they comprise a third of patients who wait longer than eight hours for an inpatient bed.

ACEM South Australian Faculty Chair Dr Michael Edmonds said, “We welcome SA Labor’s pledge of 300 hospital beds, including 98 mental health beds. ACEM have called for investments in the healthcare system, including desperately needed inpatient beds, for years and are relieved that this pledge puts health on the agenda for this election.”

“All other parties contesting the SA election should now pledge towards improving the mental wellbeing of South Australians by committing to increasing the number of inpatient beds and setting meaningful performance indicators to reduce excessive stays in the ED for patients in mental distress.”

“We can’t wait any longer. It is not acceptable that extensive ED overcrowding is seen as normal, nor is it acceptable that people requiring acute mental health care are regularly held for long periods in our EDs. EDs, with their bright lights and constant noise, are not the right environment for people experiencing distress to be stuck waiting.”

“Staff are burnt out and leaving the sector in droves. This broken system is preventing us from providing the necessary levels of care our patients in distress desperately need.”

Chair of the RANZCP SA Branch Dr Paul Furst said the requests for investment and reform are merely to bring SA up to the national average.

“SA has fallen below a functional minimum. In an ideal world we would like a world class system for SA but we are starting from a low base. We’re not going to see that kind of change overnight. We’re not immediately asking for the kind of transformative investment in mental health we are seeing other states implement. All we are asking is that all South Australian policymakers commit to getting us in line with the national average.”

“We’re an entire Modbury Hospital of mental health beds short of simply being average, and that gap is only going to get wider without investment. The people of SA expect, deserve and pay for certain minimum requirements of a functional mental health system.”

“We support investment across the entire mental health system, including community based services, prevention and diversion measures. But our inpatient system is the most desperately in need right now. This is not just about more psychiatrists or emergency medicine specialists. We need more nurses, psychologists, allied health professionals and peer workers.”

“We must have a system that supports people with mental illness receiving care in the right place at the right time, and that requires an increase in beds and services. We just want a mental health system that works for the people under our care.”

Media enquiries:
For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Melissa Howard, ACEM Media Relations Manager, on +0427 621 857 melissa.howard@acem.org.au or Andy Newton, RANZCP Senior Manager, Communications on +0411 261 969 media@ranzcp.org.

The Australasian College of Emergency Medicine is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards. www.acem.org.au

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments and other groups on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit www.ranzcp.org.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au or the Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 467 or www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au

Additional information

The ACEM / RANZCP are calling for the parties contesting the election to:

  1. Commit South Australia’s health system to benchmark itself against the national average of bed numbers and increase our stock in line with that benchmark. With current numbers, that represents:
    • At least 200 general medical beds, plus
    • At least 145 non-acute* mental health beds.
  2. Commit to increasing the public mental health workforce (psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses, allied health professionals and peer workers) to service that increased capacity.
    1. Immediately address vacancies and shortages of staff in community mental health services to provide acute crisis care and support people to remain well in the community.
    2. Implement immediate strategies to increase the supply of mental health professionals. High demand and long training times mean professional bodies must be engaged in this process.
  3. Implement Hospital Access Targets, including mandatory reporting of excessive waiting times for mental health patients in Emergency Departments (EDs).
    1. >12 hours reported to the Chief Executive, >24 hours reported to the Minister
    2. Report these benchmarks publicly on a monthly basis, to track the real-world impact of changes in the system.

* Non-acute beds represent the ‘middle ground’ between acute beds used for people in immediate crisis, and residential rehabilitation or support in the community.

How does South Australia compare?

  • The OECD average is 65 mental health beds/100,000 people.
  • The ACEM national recommendation is 60 mental health beds/100,000 people.
  • The Australian national average is 41 mental health beds/100,000.
  • South Australia has 32 mental health beds/100,000 people.