‘Real concern’ as wait times for emergency mental healthcare blow out

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More than 62 per cent of Victorians who presented at an emergency department with serious mental illness or disorder in the first three months of the year waited more than eight hours for a mental health bed.

That has blown out compared with the same period last year, the state government’s latest quarterly figures show, when about 56 per cent of adults failed to be transferred within eight hours – the clinically recommended timeframe.

More than half of Victorians attending hospital emergency departments during a mental health crisis are waiting more than eight hours for a mental health bed. Credit: Steven Siewert

Services in Melbourne’s middle and outer suburbs are under particular strain.

In Preston, Reservoir and Epping – covered by the Northern Adult Area Mental Health Service – only 13.38 per cent of adults were transferred within eight hours during the first quarter of this year. That’s down from 18.69 per cent in October through to December 2022.

According to the latest figures, 15 per cent of adults were transferred within eight hours in the Middle South region – Clayton, Moorabbin and Cheltenham – and 17 per cent in the Mid West region covering Sunshine, Deer Park and Melton.

The outliers include the Northern Mallee region and Glenelg Shire, in north-west and south-west Victoria respectively, where almost 86 per cent of adults were found a mental health bed within the clinically recommended timeframe during the first quarter of this year.

Opposition spokeswoman for mental health Emma Kealy said the figures showed a massive gap in mental health support for most of the state.

“Instead of Victorians getting mental health support when they need it, Victorians are tragically ending up in mental health crisis in our emergency departments,” she said.

Kealy called on the government to commit more spending for mental health in this month’s state budget.

Opposition spokeswoman for mental health Emma Kealy.

“Labor must invest in Victoria’s mental health workforce and community-led mental health and wellness programs, or our mental health crisis will only continue to worsen.

“There is real concern that lapsing mental health programs will be cut by Labor in a desperate and heartless bid to save money in the budget.”

Premier Daniel Andrews this week reaffirmed that tough decisions would have to be made in the budget due to a need to balance out the government’s “emergency credit card” spending made during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Age last month revealed the community health sector was bracing for millions of dollars worth of state funding to be slashed.

Minister for Mental Health Gabrielle Williams was contacted for comment. In response to a series of questions, a government spokeswoman said there had been increases in emergency department wait times for patients of all kinds.

“Like many around the world, Victoria’s health system is juggling workforce shortages, and ongoing treatment for patients with urgent and emergency needs,” she said.

The spokeswoman said the Andrews government had made record investment in mental health and created hundreds of new mental health care beds.

“Almost $6 billion has been invested in mental health and wellbeing over the past three years. We’re not wasting a minute building a system that works for every Victorian who needs care as soon as they need it, no matter where they live.”

However, the spokeswoman declined to answer questions about what will be in the upcoming budget for mental health.

The state budget will be handed down on May 23.

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