Mental health measures ‘a band-aid on a gaping wound’

6 May 2021

Following feedback and repeated advocacy from the ANMF (SA Branch) and other health and union bodies, Health Minister Stephen Wade today announced measures to supposedly ease the mental health crisis facing emergency departments across the state.

ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said the measures announced by Mr Wade today smacked of smoke and mirrors and amounted to “little more than a band-aid on a gaping wound’’. Other leading health experts called the move a “thought bubble” and “a distraction”.

Mental health patients can seek treatment at four priority care centres from today, under a plan to immediately release pressure on Adelaide’s major hospitals, The Advertiser reports.

The priority care centres are at Elizabeth, Hackham, Hindmarsh and Para Hills. Mental health patients will be able to refer themselves to the clinics. There is also the potential for referrals from police, paramedics and other health professionals, including GPs.

“All those measures do not provide the additional beds or staffing needed to address the immediate issues let alone plan for the future. If all our metropolitan hospitals are routinely running well over capacity levels, having guidelines to share patient demand will have little impact,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“Ultimately we need a clear actionable strategy for the long-term. These short-term band-aids just leave us lunging from one crisis to another.’’

Based on our information, the South Australian health system requires an immediate injection of an additional 30-40 Mental Health Nurses in community and about 100 to fill vacant shifts including those in CALHN.

This is only to cover existing workforce shortfall let alone to meet any additional bed capacity which is also desperately required in order to provide relief to consumers and the workforce serving them.

In addition, the costs of sick leave and workcover are also escalating as a result of the pressure and burden on the existing workforce which is unsustainable.

Earlier this week the ANMF (SA Branch) wrote to Health Minister Wade seeking his response and solutions to shortages within the Mental Health Nurse (MHN) workforce. Learn more here.

Only late last month ANMF teamed with other unions and advocates to form what The Advertiser described as a “coalition of mental health heavyweights” - joining Professor Mendoza in calling for real and meaningful action, a united front which prompted the Health Minister to convene an urgent workshop at the Adelaide Convention Centre with the ANMF, Professor Mendoza and other advocates.

“We again call on the Government to implement in full and as a matter of urgency Professor John Mendoza’s 10-point plan as well as the 10-point plan outlined by ourselves and other mental health advocates in a joint letter to the Minister,’’ Ms Dabars said today.