The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has welcomed the government’s announcement of immediate measures to help ease demand on the mental health system but looks forward to more significant commitment for a greater impact.
Chair of the RANZCP SA Branch, Dr Paul Furst, said the current measures are likely to provide minimal benefit to the fractured mental health system, however, were important pieces of the puzzle.
‘The Government’s announcement is a clear sign the Minister has been listening and is prepared to respond quickly to help those people who do not need to come to a hospital emergency department’ said Dr Furst.
‘It is encouraging to see the government is making moves to work towards fixing our broken system, but there is still a long way to go before we begin to break even, let alone excel.
‘Implementing a dedicated transport service to drop waiting times and free up ambulances, and urgently addressing mental health vacancies are important, will hopefully have an immediate effect and should be welcomed by everyone in the system.
‘Similarly, providing mental health assessments in the Priority Care Centres offers consumers with lower acuity problems a welcome alternative to hospital emergency departments.
‘However, it is important to understand that around 50% of the mental health consumers who currently present to emergency departments are acutely unwell and do require inpatient care.
‘If you are waiting in an emergency department for a mental health bed you’ve already been assessed by a specialist psychiatrist, they’ve determined your condition is serious enough to need treatment in hospital, and they are trying to find space in a ward for you – you're not ‘low acuity’.
‘Likewise, hospitals sharing patient demand are unlikely to have any impact if every hospital’s mental health ward is already full.
‘We look forward to the more substantial commitments required to increase our inpatient capacity to care for the 50% attending emergency departments who do need a bed.
‘Too many people experiencing major mental illness are currently finding themselves queued in a traumatic environment that is harmful to their wellbeing, when they are entitled to the quality inpatient care available here in South Australia. Not surprisingly, the quicker a person can be admitted, the quicker they begin to recover and the less time they need in hospital’.
‘There are steps the government can take to begin to address this issue’.
‘Specifically, we urgently need a commitment for a small number of psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) and forensic beds, as well as beginning work on the 60+ rehabilitation and recovery beds needed to rebalance our system and support patients to get the right care, in the right place, at the right time.
‘The important thing is that we have a mental health system which is balanced and offers consumers a range of options, and at the moment our system is drastically out of balance and staff are becoming burnt out trying to hold it together.
‘We have outlined a number of important measures to start addressing some of the systemic issues with our mental health system,’ he said. ‘However, most of those will require a significant funding commitment and can’t be scoped or implemented in a couple of weeks.’
‘The Minister has said we should expect further announcements and there are only six weeks until the State Budget.
‘We very much hope this Budget provides further short-term funding to deal with the current crisis and begin the process of initiating the kind of long-term investment needed to fix the gaps in our mental health system.
‘We will all be watching with great expectation and hope to work with the government to rebuild our system.’
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For all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.