Psychiatrists call on SA Government for immediate and strong action on mental health

11 March 2021

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) South Australian Branch has echoed concerns about deficiencies in South Australia’s health system raised by ambulance workers, nurses and SASMOA, and called for the fundamental changes outlined in their 2021-22 budget submission – Prioritising South Australia’s mental health.

Chair of the RANZCP South Australian Branch, Dr Paul Furst, explained that the events of the last year have shone a spotlight on what the health community has always known – South Australia’s mental health services need widespread, systemic changes and increased capacity because deficiencies are causing problems in the rest of the health system.

‘South Australians reacted with shock and outrage this week when the parliamentary committee was told that pressure on our health system has led to doctors being told to discharge patients before they were ready to leave’, said Dr Furst.

‘The bleak reality is that psychiatrists are pressed on a daily basis to discharge patients in order to improve waiting times for patients in the emergency department and it has been this way for years.'

‘Due to resource shortages and a lack of beds for patients who require longer recovery and rehabilitation, psychiatrists are placed in the difficult position of having to discharge patients who are not ready to go back to the community in order to make room for the next person in urgent need of help, which sets up a cycle of inadequate recovery and crisis response.'

‘We have all of these dedicated and caring people in our mental health workforce, who often say they feel morally compromised by working in a system which doesn’t have the resources to give people the proper level of treatment and support. They’re at breaking point.’

Dr Furst emphasised that improvements in mental health services had flow-on benefits for other areas of the health system.

‘If the Government were to just increase the number of rehabilitation beds in the community, provide an in-reach service in prisons, or open behavioural units in emergency hospitals to better manage drug and alcohol presentations,’ Dr Furst said.

‘Each of those in their own way would improve the quality of patient care and reduce demand on community mental health teams, emergency departments and acute hospital beds, which in turn means shorter waiting times in emergency departments. Everything is interconnected and there’s a reason it’s not just psychiatrists calling for more mental health resources.’

Following the 2019 release of the Mental Health Services Plan 2020-2025 (MHSP), the Government indicated it was supportive of the vision set out in the plan with the caveat that its initiatives would be dependent on future state budget considerations, priorities and timing.

‘To its credit, the Government has invested significant funding to help improve mental health services over the last few years,’ added Dr Furst.

‘However, what we still lack and what the RANZCP SA Branch is calling for, is a solid commitment to fund the whole plan and matching our state’s capacity to the demand for services.'

‘We need to stop comparing ourselves to other states and patting ourselves on the back for being slightly better than some of our neighbours – a mental health system which is better than average in some areas, in the context of a national mental health system which is failing too many, is simply not good enough.’

The RANZCP SA Branch strongly believes that this next state budget should commit the funding necessary to reach the 2025 capacity targets set out in the MHSP.

‘We also believe the priority actions the RANZCP SA Branch has outlined would be most effective in taking some pressure off the system and these should be fast-tracked’, said Dr Furst.

‘It’s long past due that our government prioritises the mental health and wellbeing of our communities.’

‘South Australians deserve a world-class mental health system where everyone has access to the right type and level of care, when they need it.’

For all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.

ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call Andy Newton on 0437 315 911.