Politics — 18 September 2013

Cairns Hospital has acknowledged a shortage of acute mental health beds has forced it to keep psychiatric patients at the emergency department, sometimes for days at a time.

Mental health campaigner Ruth Crouch, whose son committed suicide two years ago, says the current situation is failing both hospital staff and patients. bigstock_Hospital_Sign_652796

She is calling for a day care unit at the hospital to take pressure off the emergency department.

“I’ve heard of even young people having to spend days in the emergency department and it’s just horrible all round,” she said.

“What I would like to see is, in a building separate from the hospital, a day unit for adolescents.

“A place for people who are unwell to go, where they could be receiving therapy and having some time away from the normal stresses of life that are causing them to be unwell.”

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service CEO, Julie Hartley Jones, says she has sought extra funding for more mental health beds to deal with the immediate crisis.

But she says broader reform is needed.

“I think one of the challenges we’ve had is we’ve tried to battle in finding solutions on our own and we can’t do that,” she said.

“We’ve got to do that in partnership with other stakeholders.”

‘Struggling to cope’

Dr Lesley Van Schoubroeck, Queensland’s mental health commissioner, says she wants to help community organisations in the far north better share resources.

She says it appears the Cairns Hospital is struggling to cope with the number of psychiatric patients, and there is a shortage of specialist services for adolescents.

Ms Van Schoubroeck believes the system will work better if the community sector is able to care for more patients.

“If we can build the capacity of [our] community sector down the track one day you probably won’t need so many community services,” she said.

“[There are] some good NGOs on the ground in the community; they’re just a bit stretched.”

She says the focus needs to be on improving community awareness and early intervention services, so less people need to go to hospital.

“The tragedy of families is they just watch these things escalate and escalate because they either didn’t see the signs or when they saw the early signs they didn’t know where to go for help,” she said.

“We have to get back to the front-end, we have to learn from what is good and support what is good.

“If we do anything – change the rules, change the legislation, change the practice, change the culture … you can get better communication between families, clinicians, schools, police, then you are empowering families to help people they love.”

This article first appeared on ABC Local Far North Queensland on 16 September.


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