Sector News — 15 October 2014

WA’s mental health system was plunged into a rare “code yellow” emergency this week as authorities scrambled to admit dozens of patients to secure wards already at capacity.

There have only been four code yellow emergencies in the mental health system – November 2012, June last year, July, and this week – the Health Department said.

On Monday morning, metropolitan mental health units were sent an urgent situation report or “sitrep” warning of an “extremely high level of demand for acute secure mental health beds”.hospital-484848_1280

The Health Department alert, which was leaked to shadow mental health minister Stephen Dawson, warned that 22 adults and two adolescents needed secure beds. It told psychiatric consultants to “urgently review” patients in secure wards to create capacity in the system.

The West Australian understands the number of patients requiring secure beds peaked at 26 and the emergency was not called off until 3.45pm yesterday when the number fell to 13, two below the code yellow threshold.

Australian Medical Association WA psychiatry spokesman Paul Skerritt said the directive to find capacity in full wards meant unit administrators were “encouraged to kick people out who aren’t ready to go”.

Dr Skerritt said most of the patients requiring acute mental health beds would have been languishing in hospital emergency departments. “If there’s one type of patient not suited to three or four days on trolleys in emergency departments, it’s psychiatric patients,” he said.

Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists WA branch chairman Aaron Groves urged the Government to release its 10-year plan for mental health, which is nearly a year overdue.

Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said 40 mental health beds would open in coming months, supported by clinical staff. “These include 30 additional new beds at Fiona Stanley Hospital, six new beds and 14 replacement beds at Perth Children’s Hospital and the opening of an additional four new secure beds at Albany Hospital,” she said.

Mr Dawson said Mrs Morton should be ashamed that just days after Mental Health Week information had leaked confirming a crisis in the system.

This article first appeared on ‘The West Australian’ on 15 October 2014.

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