Macarthur doctors concerned mental health facilities are understaffed

Macarthur doctors concerned mental health facilities are understaffed

Doctors representing Macarthur's hospitals raised grave concerns about the region's mental health facilities at a recent parliamentary inquiry.

Medical professionals strongly backed the need for more investment in the Macarthur region's hospitals at last month's parliamentary inquiry into the South Western Sydney Local Health District.

One of their largest areas of concern was in regards to mental health in the district.

The state government's $632 million stage two redevelopment of Campbelltown Hospital will include a significant expansion of mental health services.

However, Campbelltown and Camden Hospital's medical staff council chairperson Dr Sethy Ung told the inquiry that filling positions in that sector may prove difficult.

"Firstly, we are very grateful for the stage two redevelopment, particularly investing in mental health capital works," he said.

"However, we are yet to see the recurrent expenditure to actually staff this whole tower of a mental health building.

"I am quite pessimistic about the capacity to recruit to staff this building as we already have shortfalls in profile and we struggle to recruit on a day-to-day basis."

We are yet to the see the recurrent expenditure to actually staff this whole tower of a mental health building.

Dr Sethy Ung

Director of the Campbelltown and Camden Hospital emergency departments Associate Professor Richard Cracknell also told the inquiry more mental health clinicians were needed in the region.

"We have on average, 54 patients per month that spend greater than 24 hours in emergency with a mental health presentation and diagnosis," he said.

"This is someone who has presented with an exacerbation of illnesses like schizophrenia, severe depression or suicidality who are assessed and admitted to hospital and then 24 hours later are still in emergency."

Associate Professor Cracknell said, "most of these patients will spend several days in emergency".

"We will still be caring for someone who has presented with depression or suicidality on day four since their presentation in emergency in that very noisy, chaotic environment that is far from therapeutic and far from what they need," he said.

"We need greater access to mental health beds-inpatient beds-and greater access particularly to the high dependency mental health beds.

"Our record is 100 hours for a patient from the time of admission in emergency before they left emergency.

"Greater than 50 per cent of patients admitted to the mental health services at Campbelltown Hospital will go home from the emergency department having never seen the inside of the mental health unit."

Mental health minister questioned over doctors' concerns

Opposition spokeswoman for mental health Tara Moriarty took the doctors' concerns to NSW Parliament last week.

She asked the minister for mental health, Bronnie Taylor, what measures she had taken to address the ongoing mental health issues at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals.

Ms Taylor said the government was "in the process of making a big investment in the area".

"It (western Sydney) continues to grow at a faster rate than the rest of the state," she said.

"The government is aware of that and is responding.

"For example, the $632 million stage two Campbelltown Hospital redevelopment will include a significant expansion of mental health services, and the new $740 million Liverpool Health and Academic Precinct will include a new emergency department and enhanced levels of care.

"I have visited Campbelltown Hospital and the new state-of-the-art community mental health centre.

"I suggest to anyone who has an interest in mental health, and particularly in community-based services, that they visit this new centre. It is fantastic."

Ms Taylor said the state government was developing a community-based project in South Western Sydney Local Health District Mental Health Service to reduce demand in emergency departments.

"This is the community mental health 24-hour flexible housing treatment and support program," she said.

"We know that if somebody has a mental health illness, they need a home.

"They need to have somewhere where they can get the assistance they need."

Ms Taylor said the ongoing Rapid Emergency Mental Health Service program also helped to divert people in need of mental health care, who fit the program's criteria, from presenting to an emergency department.

However, Ms Moriarty said the answer from the minister was "disappointing".

"Mental health services in the region are woefully inadequate," she said.

"The population in this region is growing rapidly and health services need to keep up so that appropriate care is available for people when needed.

"It's unfortunate that the minister did not address my questions or the concerns of local doctors with any direct information about what the NSW Government plans to do to address this issue.

"I'm calling on the NSW Government to listen to local doctors and immediately address the shortage of mental health services in the south-west Sydney region.

"People are in need of support and this rapidly growing community deserves better."

Camden and District Hospital is one of the region's largest public medical facilities and offers a range of health services. Photo: Kayla Osborne

Camden and District Hospital is one of the region's largest public medical facilities and offers a range of health services. Photo: Kayla Osborne

Macarthur Mental Health Carers Support Group president John Moore said more need to be done to support not just mental health staff at hospitals, but patients and carers as well.

He said more nurses, clinicians and trained security guards were needed at the region's facilities.

"This something we have been advocating for for years - the new building is great but we need the staff to fill it," Mr Moore said.

"I think the nurses do a wonderful job but we need more of them to relieve some of that pressure that is on them.

"I genuinely fear that they will burn out."

The South Western Sydney Local Health District actively participated in last month's inquiry.

A spokeswoman for the health district said the 2019-20 budget alone for the district was almost $2 billion, "an increase of nearly $94 million on the previous financial year's budget".

"This is the largest budget of any metropolitan health district in NSW," she said.

"With almost $3 billion committed to hospital redevelopments, South Western Sydney Local Health District is extremely well positioned to meet the healthcare needs of the growing community.

"This investment includes, $740 million for the new Liverpool Health and Academic Precinct (LHAP) plus $50 million for a new carpark at the precinct, $1.3 billion for a new Bankstown Hospital, $632 million for the Campbelltown Hospital and $68.7 million for stage one of the Bowral Hospital.

"In addition, the district will benefit from the NSW Government's $2.8 billion commitment to recruit a record 8300 frontline health staff over the next term, including 5000 additional nurses and midwives."