WA psychiatrists call for more community-based care

03 March 2021

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has called on the Western Australian Government and Opposition to follow in Victoria’s footsteps and commit to providing effective, community based mental health crisis, assessment and short-term treatment options as part of their policy platform in the upcoming election.

The RANZCP WA Branch has long been concerned about the capacity of the mental health system to effectively manage crisis and treatment in the community due to the lack of resources and funding provided.

‘There is a clear shortage of properly resourced community-based services in our state, resulting in disparities in access and coverage across jurisdictions in WA’, said Branch Chair, Professor Megan Galbally. 

‘Community services must be available across the state and should be the first line of treatment for those who need mental health care.

‘Many individuals presenting to emergency departments could be more appropriately cared for in the community, if offered timely access to crisis assessment and treatment, and expert multidisciplinary community care.

‘Of course, some people need in-patient care, but almost a third of patients spend much longer in hospital that they need to, because access to community services is just not there.

‘The Western Australian mental health system is costly and weighted towards inpatient care.

‘Because WA has a lack of crisis assessment and treatment care as well as continuing care treatment services in the community, there is an overreliance on hospital services; opportunities for prevention and early intervention are being lost.’ 

‘This results in ‘bed blocks’ – where people can’t get the help they need.  It is not unusual for patients to be in Emergency Departments for up to 5 days while they wait for a mental health bed. 

‘This is totally unacceptable. As a community, we wouldn’t accept someone with a broken leg waiting on a bed for 5 days, and mental health care should be no different’.

‘These bed blocks also put staff at risk of violence and aggression from people who are needing care and are in the wrong place to get the care they need.’

The RANZCP strongly believes that without appropriate and supported access to treatment and crisis services in the community, emergency department presentations and demand for services will continue to increase.

‘The lack of community-based care translates into patients receiving insufficient follow-up and treatment, and leads to higher likelihood of relapse, re-presentation to emergency department settings and hospitalisation’, explained Professor Galbally. 

‘Our mental health system is clearly fragmented, broken and this is resulting in people not being able to get the care they need, when they need it.

‘Government funding for mental health services has, for too long, been disproportionately dispersed, with the proportion of funding for community treatment services has remained the same since 2015, with funding for prevention and community support decreasing.

‘Effectively, this means Western Australians are receiving very little in the way of services, especially in the community, despite WA having one of the highest-costing mental health services in the country.’

The RANZCP WA Branch calls on both the WA Government and Opposition to commit to righting this wrong that those in the mental health systems have been suffering because of.

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 Sarah Carr on +61 437 315 911, or email media@ranzcp.org.