Health Watch: A “small” number?

Health Watch: A “small” number?

Monday 2 December 2019


The 2019-20 State Budget acknowledged that “a small number of mental health patients wait an extended period of time for a specialised mental health bed when presenting at hospital emergency departments (EDs)”. As Health Watch’s coverage over the past three months has proved, the number of mental health emergency department attendees spending more than 24 hours in WA’s EDs is far from “small”. Even the Minister for Mental Health Roger Cook has acknowledged that more needs to be done. In an interview on ABC Radio’s Morning show, Mr Cook said he wanted to put in place more resources to treat mental illness and was considering safe haven cafes, which would be open after hours to provide additional therapy options.


But just how bad do things have to get before remedial action is taken? Comparing October 2017 and October 2019, ED attendances have increased by 3 per cent, mental health ED attendances have increased by 10 per cent, and MH ED attendances with a length of episode of more than four hours has increased by 45 per cent – again, not a “small number of patients” languishing in our EDs. While Health Watch understands that the problem cannot be solved with a snap of the Minister’s fingers, a focus on workforce, community and hospital capacity can reduce the number of hours that mental health patients are spending in WA’s EDs. On the facing page, AMA (WA) Emergency Medicine spokesperson Dr David Mountain discusses how bed block and insufficient capacity results in severe consequences for patients and their carers, as well as placing extraordinary pressure on ED staff.


Reference: Western Australia State Budget 2019-20 Budget Paper No. 2 Budget Statements Volume 1.


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