More Australians are accessing mental health services than ever before and Emergency Departments are groaning with the weight of associated presentations.
Over the last four years emergency departments saw an increase of 20% in mental health presentations. This is not only a strain on under-resourced ED staff but also poses harmful consequences for patients.
Research from AIHW shows mental health patients are twice as likely as other patients to stay in ED for longer than eight hours. There are also regular instances of patients spending three or more days in EDs.
EDs have become the major and often default entry point for those seeking access to mental health care and, with the total number of public mental health beds being less than it was in 1993-94, service shortfall is inevitable.
Are mental health crisis hubs the answer to a system in disarray?
Six sites across Victoria set to be part of the rollout of new emergency department crisis hubs.
People who present with urgent mental health needs will be fast-tracked to one of these hubs for specialised care with the dual purpose of improving quality of care for the patient and relieving pressure on emergency departments.
“This will fundamentally change the way we deal with mental health presentations in EDs – freeing up important frontline resources in our hospitals,” said the Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley.
The crisis hubs will be established at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Barwon Health, Monash Medical Centre, St Vincent’s, Sunshine and Frankston hospitals.
The hubs are designed in response to the increasing number of people with mental health, drug and alcohol problems who seek help in emergency departments.
“Our hard-working ED nurses and doctors are dealing with more mental health patients than ever before,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said. “We’re taking the pressure off them, so that they can give more Victorian families the emergency care they need.
“These hubs will give people suffering an urgent mental health crisis the specialist care they need, and free up our busy emergency departments to do what they do best.”
The demand on mental health services is steadily increasing with 72,859 Victorians having accessed the system between 2017-18 (an increase of almost 10%).
Queensland is also set to receive a mental health hub, the Morrison Government announced earlier this year.
The hub is to be established in Townsville in response to the higher demand for mental health services in the area, predominantly due to the number of defence force personnel living in the area.
The centre will operate over extended hours, with people being able to walk in without a prior appointment.
The Morrison Government has promised eight walk-in community health centres including the Townsville development, one located in each state and territory to trial delivery models in different community groups.
The centres are intended to connect pathways of less urgent longer-term care by integrating with other local community services such as GPs, PHNs other state-operated services.
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said “In guaranteeing these centres through the Budget, we have recognised that Australia needs a comprehensive, inclusive mental health system that caters for everyone, regardless of their age, or needs. It’s part of our plan to deliver a comprehensive mental health system in Australia.”
The first of these centres are expected to begin operation in 2021.
A national forum is being held in Melbourne, February 24 – 26 next year, bringing together key stakeholders from emergency, mental health and community health to develop collaborative approaches to support patient access and alleviate strain on EDs.
The Mental Health Access & Quality in Emergency Departments conference will cover six effective models of care including new pilot & trial programs, updates on the rollout of mental health crisis hubs and best practice hospital avoidance strategies.