Tasmania's mental health woes exposed by parliamentary inquiry

A state parliamentary inquiry has heard Tasmania’s hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with mentally ill young people, putting them at further risk of harm.

A Legislative Council subcommittee, examining the state’s acute health services, heard on Friday the state desperately needed more psychiatric beds and a specific youth mental health unit.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service psychiatrist Fiona Wagg said the service was the most poorly resourced service of its kind in the country.

“We’re just above half the national average in terms of our resourcing,” she said.

Dr Wagg was there were no dedicated in-patient beds for the estimated 400 mentally ill children and adolescents across the state who were instead accommodated in general pediatric or adult psychiatric units.

She said admission into an adult ward was considered one of the highest levels of risk to a patient in other Australian states.

Dr Wagg said about 660 young people presented to emergency departments statewide last year with suicidality.

“We had a 10 per cent increase between 2014-15, 40 per cent increase between 2015-16, and we haven’t got our data yet, but we expect another increase,” she said.

Dr Wagg said a suicidal young person was in the Royal Hobart Hospital’s emergency department for most of the weekend recently.

“And unfortunately, the last three young people we have had to admit to the adult ward, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, have been traumatised in various ways,” Dr Wagg said.

“One young woman was sexually touched, another young man was actually hit, and another disturbed person came into the room and a young man was very frightened.”

“It’s not appropriate to mix very young people with adult patients.”

Dr Wagg said there were no CAMS hospital-based teams in the North and North-West.

Tasmania has the second highest suicide rate in the nation at 17 deaths per 1000 people.

The government wants to reduce suicides by 20 per cent by 2022.

Health Minister Michael Ferguson said a dedicated child and adolescent mental health unit would be part of the Hobart hospital’s redevelopment and Launceston General Hospital’s children’s ward would have specialist facilities for mental health issues.

“The government is also rolling out $3.2 million of additional funding over four years for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service to hire more staff and significantly improve follow-up rates.”

  • If you are experiencing mental health issues call Lifeline on 131 114.