Emergency clinicians from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) say the practises, which are deeply distressing for patients, doctors and nurses, wouldn’t happen if there were enough staffed mental health beds.
ACEM President Dr Clare Skinner said, “In the top end of the Northern Territory there can be up to ten patients experiencing extreme mental illness that makes them a risk to themselves or others, stuck in an emergency department (ED) at the same time.”
“EDs are not restful places. They are crowded, noisy and brightly-lit. These severely unwell patients get stuck for hours – or even days – with their symptoms increasing in severity until doctors are forced to make extremely difficult decisions to keep the patient, other patients in the ED and staff safe from harm.”
ACEM warns these overly long waits for care are an indicator of widespread system failure across acute psychiatric and community-based mental health care, are damaging to people who need care, and stressful for all people in emergency departments.
Dr Skinner said, “Emergency clinicians in the Northern Territory chose their careers because they want to help people, to make them feel better. In the top end of the Territory, a severe lack of capacity in the mental health system is hindering them being able to ensure people get the appropriate care they need.”
ACEM is advocating for a significant investment in community and in-patient mental health services, including an immediate increase in fully staffed mental health beds, across the Territory.
Hospitals in the top end of the Northern Territory have been in "code yellow" since Tuesday due to significant levels of demand and patient admissions. ACEM’s State of Emergency 2022 report found that the NT has the highest level of ED presentations in Australia, per capita.
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