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Health - Psychiatric Emergency Nurse Numbers

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 30 May 2019

Tags: Royal Hobart Hospital, Bed Block


The Department of Psychiatry at the Royal Hobart Hospital is funded for 5.8 full-time psychiatric emergency nurses, or PENs, yet as of two weeks ago only 2.8 of those positions were filled. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation wrote to you two weeks ago about the significant pressure on the psychiatric ward because of ongoing bed block over the past two years and the distress this has created for mentally unwell patients who arrive from emergency having waited 24, 93 or even 123 hours. Attempts to employ psychiatric nurses from the mainland have failed. Nurses arrive to do a shift and decide to go home because of the understaffed and stressful conditions. In April there were three separate attempted suicides by patients in the emergency department. I understand there was another attempt last week because there are no acute mental health services available when needed. Given the desperate need for more PENs, what will you say to the ANMF and the staff it represents who hoped you would fund the staff needed to care for patients in severe mental distress?



Madam Speaker, first I will deal with the facts and then I will address the policy question. I am aware of the assertion that has been made. I am advised that the assertions broadcast on the ABC were not correct. However, I will say that any serious incident, such as suicide attempt, whether it is in the community or in a public hospital, is always thoroughly investigated and an immediate response put in place to ensure patient safety.

Dr Woodruff - What assertions are you talking about? I have no idea what you are talking about.

Mr FERGUSON - I am not going to repeat them. The Government is committed to building a better mental health system for Tasmanians in line with our Rethink Mental Health plan, which has been warmly received by our stakeholders. We have one of the most capable chief psychiatrists in the country working for the Tasmanian people, who is my chief adviser. Dr Groves is my go-to when I am looking for policy guidance on how we can provide better support and assistance for people of all ages experiencing mental distress. I can assure the member that we take ANMF concerns seriously. I also -

Dr Woodruff - You have not asked them yet.

Mr FERGUSON - I am answering you at the moment. I am answering the question. The Government has employed psychiatric emergency nurses. They do a fantastic job.

We are not content to leave it there. We are doing more. The Government will build 27 additional mental health beds in the community at two new facilities. It is not just about the acute hospital. The Rethink Mental Health plan, which your party endorsed, includes step-up and step-down facilities, the right treatment, the right support in the right place at the right time. For many people we can intervene earlier without the need for an inpatient admission. We will build a new greenfield facility at St John's Park and we will rebuild Peacock Centre, which was burned down. These initiatives will reduce demand at the Royal Hobart Hospital and deliver more care in community settings where people are best able to recover.

Can we please remember the recovery message and remind people that they can recover and we will be there to support them.

We are not prepared to wait for those facilities to be built before we provide more support. Our Budget provides for it. In the 2018-19 Budget, we provided funding for an additional 10 beds at Mistral Place. We took advice on that. It was not the right approach to do, but we listened and took the advice. I went to my number one adviser on this and we found a better model. We have used the same resource and I think we have opened eight additional beds equivalent in the Hospital in the Home program. It will increase to 12.

Dr Woodruff - Half the staff are not there. What is going on?

Mr FERGUSON - That is not true. Your interjection is not true. I will just say that and move on.

My feedback from the chief psychiatrist and the staff of that service is that patients and families appreciate it. It has taken pressure off the Royal, which is good. Further to my earlier answer to Dr Woodruff's question on dedicated adolescent inpatient units, it is in the Budget, it is on page -

Dr Woodruff - It does not use the words 'mental health'. It is not for mental health. This is in inpatient flow over.