Mental Health: a shambles in the Hunter

Today the Greens candidate for Newcastle Michael Osborne called for an overhaul of the mental health system in the Hunter, calling it a ‘shambles’, particularly pointing to a lack of emergency mental health services.

“Due to chronic under funding of mental health resources in the Hunter, we are seeing wide ranging problems such as a severe shortage of beds in psychiatric hospitals, a lack of emergency services, a lack of ongoing rehabilitation and treatment, misdiagnosis, staff shortages and the absence of services for the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse.

“Carers desperate for help for their relatives and friends say that the right hand of the service does not know what the left hand is doing.

“Callers to the Psychiatric Emergency Centre at James Fletcher Hospital are increasingly unlikely to obtain long term treatment – with only 20 beds in Acacia Ward and only 16 to deal with the rapidly increasing number of patients with drug related problems or with the dual diagnosis of drugs and mental health problems. The services at the Mater Hospital are also stretched to breaking point.

“In the past, mental health crisis teams established in the mid 1980s, visited people in their homes and initiated treatment were disbanded in 2001. Now there is only one staff member available to provide emergency mental health services between the hours of 5pm and at weekends in the whole of Newcastle.

“Police often have to be called in to pick up the considerable slack of the mental health system – unfair to them and to the affected person. The increase in crime in the city could well be in part an outcome of the desperate situation in the mental health system.

“The State Government needs to significantly increase funding for mental health services; improve and integrate hospital and community-based mental health services; and, bring back the mental health crisis teams,” Councillor Osborne said.

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