Treat us equally: South Australians with mental illness getting a raw deal

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM), and the College of Emergency Nursing Australasia(CENA) have joined together to highlight the plight of Mental Health patients left stranded in Adelaide’s Emergency Departments (EDs).

Every day, doctors and nurses represented by the three Colleges, are appalled by waits for acute mental health beds: leaving patients languishing in EDs for days. Even for the sickest group of patients, those needing Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit beds, waiting for 4 days is common.

“Lengthy ED stays are not tolerated for patients with severe physical illnesses, and should not be tolerated for acutely ill mental health patients who deserve equitable access to hospital beds. This is discriminatory,” RANZCP South Australian Branch Chair Dr Michelle Atchison says.

The chair of the Emergency Psychiatry Advocacy Group, Dr Megan Brooks says: “EDs are designed for the rapid assessment of patients. They are not somewhere that anyone would wish to stay for days on end. In an ED, acutely disturbed mental health patients are subjected to continuous noise and light, constant scrutiny by a guard, and share a toilet and shower with 20-30 other patients. Fundamentally, there is no basic human dignity or privacy. In this completely non-therapeutic environment: physical and pharmacological restraint is often required.

“SA Health mandate that patients with physical illness should move out of the ED to a ward bed within 4 hours. Why is it acceptable that Mental Health patients wait 4 or 5 days?”

College of Emergency Nursing Australasia SA Branch President, Ms Karen Hammad, says the prolonged presence of these very unwell mental health patients places additional strain on already overcrowded EDs and further reduces the ability of the nurses and doctors in EDs to care for all their patients.”

When compared to all other Australian states SA has the lowest number of acute MH beds per head of population for those aged 18-65.

To meet the national average SA requires a further 43 acute beds for patients aged 18-65.

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