ACEM welcomes much needed focus on mental health

In acknowledgement of the significant mental health challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, ACEM appreciates recent announcements including the Commonwealth Government’s appointment of a Deputy Chief Medical Officer responsible for mental health, a National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan, as well as significant mental health funding commitments from state and territory governments.

Emergency doctors have long raised concerns about the increasing numbers of patients with mental health conditions across all age groups presenting to hospital emergency departments, and the unacceptably long and dangerous waits many are facing for definitive psychiatric care.

ACEM President Dr John Bonning said as COVID-19 continues to present significant and prolonged stresses, new and complex mental health challenges are expected.

“Just as our hospital and healthcare systems have responded to the challenges posed during the early stages of COVID-19, we must be prepared for an increase in demand for mental health care and support services during and after this pandemic,” said Dr Bonning.

“We are very concerned about the flow-on mental health impacts of COVID-19 and increased pressure on stretched health systems. As we continue to emerge from stringent lockdown measures, and the true mental health toll becomes more apparent in the weeks and months ahead, action is needed to improve resourcing, capacity and integration of mental health services across EDs, inpatient facilities, primary health and the community. This needs to include ensuring a range of mental healthcare options are available in the community and across hospital and healthcare systems, not just during office hours but around the clock. There is also the associated need for drug and alcohol support and social work services.

“In the spirit of cooperation which has prevailed across our health systems during COVID-19 and as we confront our ‘new normal’, a priority for governments, healthcare systems and hospitals must be avoiding a return to chronically overcrowded and access blocked hospital emergency departments experienced prior to the pandemic. In times of COVID-19, avoiding overcrowding in our EDs is particularly important as we seek to limit infection risks.

“Dangerously long stays in the emergency department are unacceptable for any patient, and data shows it is people with mental health needs who are disproportionately facing such circumstances. For a person already experiencing mental health crisis a long stay in the emergency department can make a bad situation much, much worse.

“While the College welcomes recent mental health announcements and commitments from governments, funding and initiatives must make a difference on the frontline, for those suffering from mental health crisis in these most trying times.

“Building and sustaining a functioning, integrated mental health system that provides supports across the whole spectrum of care will require more than a piecemeal approach to reform and the College looks forward to further detail about how the various government mental health commitments will be integrated into a unifying vision for mental healthcare beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.”

ACEM will continue to work with governments and healthcare systems and supports investment in alternative models of emergency mental health care and more appropriate crisis services, while ensuring that EDs are adequately resourced to provide high quality care for patients in urgent need.

ACEM is due to release a comprehensive set of recommendations in this regard later in 2020.

Background

ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards. www.acem.org.au

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