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Waiting time for secure mental health rehab bed now tops 130 days

Dominic Giannini 25 November 2019 14
The Canberra Hospital

Vicki Dunne says The Canberra Hospital’s adult mental health unit has been operating at or very near to 100 per cent capacity for at least a year. Photo: George Tsotsos.

A lack of beds at Canberra Hospital’s mental health ward is putting an enormous strain on its emergency department, according to the Shadow Health Minister Vicki Dunne, with one person on the waiting list for over 130 days.

The Dhulwa Mental Health Unit’s rehabilitation program has been at 100 per cent capacity since June, with both of its units being over-capacity on two separate occasions in September.

All 17 of the inpatient beds are currently in use across both units, according to a ministerial advisory note obtained under Freedom of Information laws by the Canberra Liberals.

Dhulwa is a 25-bed facility that provides mental health care for adults who are, or are likely to become, caught up in the criminal justice system. The facility is split into two categories, an acute unit and a rehabilitation unit.

Mrs Dunne says these waiting times are unacceptable, with a detainee at Canberra’s prison, the Alexander Maconochie Centre, still waiting for a bed at the facility, despite being on the waiting list for over 130 days.

A second referral from another detainee was received on 27 August and is currently being considered by the Assessment and Administration Panel for admission, the advisory note says.

“The last thing inmates need is to wait for mental health treatment, especially coming on top of being denied healthcare in the early hours of the recent lockdown,” Mrs Dunne said.

“The Canberra Hospital’s adult mental health unit has been operating at or very near to 100 per cent capacity for at least a year, putting enormous pressure on the emergency department, as well as general wards and the long-suffering staff. Now we have learned that Dhulwa is also at capacity.”

Although Dhulwa is touted as a 25-bed facility, there are currently only seven rehabilitation beds, which have been at capacity since June, and 10 acute beds, while the remaining eight beds have not yet been commissioned.

“Another eight beds have not been commissioned because the facility is facing ‘workforce challenges’ described as ‘attraction and retention of senior clinical staff and specialist Forensic Psychiatrists’,” Mrs Dunne said.

Staffing in the mental health sector has been a point of contention between the Health Directorate and the Shadow Minister, who clashed with Chief Psychiatrist Dr Denise Riordan over a “chronic shortfall of psychiatrists” during parliamentary estimates.

Mrs Dunne drew upon a budget submission by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ ACT branch that said “there have been several reports of Canberra Hospital’s adult mental health unit forced to function with only one psychiatrist per shift, leading to burnout of doctors and putting the safety of consumers at risk”.

Dr Riordan denied these claims.

Ms Dunne also criticised the government for not having a dedicated adolescent mental health ward.

“The ACT’s mental health system is in crisis and Chief Minister Andrew Barr and his Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury have completely lost focus,” she said.

The government has committed to building a dedicated public adolescent inpatient unit which is set to be completed in the 2021-22 financial year after funds were put aside in the last budget to pay for the project.


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14 Responses to Waiting time for secure mental health rehab bed now tops 130 days
Rauny Worm Rauny Worm 2:24 pm 27 Nov 19

The problems are so complex and once you are in a crisis situation..you are lost and left without support…how much louder must we scream for help?!

Darren Sault Darren Sault 10:25 pm 26 Nov 19

.....not if you’re Richard DiNatale?

Teresa BRx Teresa BRx 8:26 pm 26 Nov 19

And what bright ideas does Ms Dunne have that are going to go towards fixing the problem? I’ll bet it will be zero, and probably making it worse to boot.

    Sue Whitton Sue Whitton 12:01 am 27 Nov 19

    Teresa BRx yup, usual political BS as always.

Mario Vozella Mario Vozella 8:21 pm 26 Nov 19

Very poor committment to mental health services from ACT health, whilst the ÀCT government continues to fund just about everything else than health....pissweak I say

Megan Baker-Goldsmith Megan Baker-Goldsmith 3:18 pm 26 Nov 19

Meanwhile the liberals want to cut spending on health.

    Natalie Ferris Natalie Ferris 7:24 pm 26 Nov 19

    Labor has cut health as well

    Megan Baker-Goldsmith Megan Baker-Goldsmith 7:27 pm 26 Nov 19

    Natalie Ferris not true https://apps.treasury.act.gov.au/budget/budget-2019-20/budget-papers/budget-in-brief/future-proofing-our-health-system

    The 2019/2020 budget includes investment in more walk in centres, better mental health care, more specialists and more.

Jennifer Exall Jennifer Exall 3:13 pm 26 Nov 19

I can't wait until the Liberals are in power because they will so obviously have solutions to every single problem that they have complained about for all this time and life will be so much better.

    Deborah Jane Deborah Jane 5:12 pm 26 Nov 19

    Jennifer Exall They’ll spend their first term or two blaming Labor for everything

Gwg Heldon Gwg Heldon 2:53 pm 26 Nov 19

There is one practice of psychiatrists who specialises in PTSD here in Canberra. Actually, that's incorrect. They're in Murrumbateman. Otherwise, wait over 6-8 months for an appointment or go to Sydney.

Considering Canberra is the headquarters of Defence and the AFP, that's not good enough.

Doris Andrews Doris Andrews 2:39 pm 26 Nov 19

There is a major problem with mental health services in Canberra

    Kathryn Ingram Kathryn Ingram 11:30 pm 26 Nov 19

    There's mental health services in Canberra?

    Elizabeth Zatschler Elizabeth Zatschler 4:59 am 27 Nov 19

    It’s even better if you are under 18. Nothing. Perhaps let’s put the child in the gastroenterology ward to pass the time. But don’t bother sending a psychiatrist or psychologist, a social worker will do.

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