The peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand has welcomed the Western Australian Government’s move to introduce mandatory reporting of cases involving extreme emergency department waiting times for specialised mental health care.
Although mental health patients comprise only around 4 per cent of all presentations to emergency departments they are much more likely to stay in the emergency department for longer than eight hours. Most people who stay 24 hours or longer in an emergency department are people experiencing a mental health crisis. The high stimulus environment, the lack of sleep and privacy all make the emergency department a particularly inappropriate place for people experiencing mental ill health to spend long periods of time.
Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) President Dr Simon Judkins said: “These long waits are harmful and discriminatory for people experiencing mental illness and many of our emergency department staff describe feeling ‘heartbroken’ and deeply stressed by the plight of mental health patients in the emergency department.”
The College has been outspoken in advocating solutions to address inadequate and unsafe mental health care across the country.
“We are very encouraged to hear that the WA Government will introduce and support mandatory reporting of extreme wait times in emergency departments,” Dr Judkins said. “The Northern Territory government recently announced a similar step towards improving patient care and we encourage all States and Territories to work with ACEM to develop and implement similar reform measures.
“No one should spend 24 hours or longer in an emergency department. Ultimately, we will be working towards a 12 hours maximum time period for all patients presenting to emergency departments for care, but we are encouraged by these announcements.”
ACEM called for mandatory Ministerial reporting of long ED stays in February 2018, and then held a Mental Health in the Emergency Department Summit in Melbourne in October that saw more than 170 emergency doctors, psychiatrists, consumers, clinicians and key decision makers discuss and agree on seven key principles to tackle Australia’s mental health crisis.
ACEM issued a communiqué after the summit, vowing to set the agenda for policy reform and declaring that “no one should stay longer than 24 hours in an emergency department”, particularly those experiencing mental health crisis.
ACEM Western Australia Faculty Board Chair Dr Peter Allely said: “ACEM will always advocate for better patient care, and we stand ready to work with the government, hospital leadership and health department executives – backed by data, evidence and a common vision – to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”
ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards. www.acem.org.au
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