Turn mental health concern to 'pat on back for government': Ferguson

Michael Ferguson MP
Michael Ferguson MP

Concerns aired at a parliamentary inquiry into mental health care in Tasmania should be “turned into a pat on the back to the government”, Health Minister Michael Ferguson says.

A Legislative Council subcommittee examining the state’s acute health services heard on Friday that the state was in desperate need of more psychiatric beds and a specific mental health unit for children and adolescents.

Acute mental health patients are often being admitted to the Royal Hobart Hospital’s emergency department while the hospital redevelopment is taking place.

The Australian Medical Association’s state branch has described the hospital’s interim mental health observation unit as “unsafe”.

One clinician told the inquiry the last three young people admitted to the adult ward at the RHH had been sexually assaulted, punched and harassed, respectively.

The AMA has called on the state government to expedite a rebuild of the RHH’s psychiatric ward, amid fears mentally ill patients are not receiving adequate care.

On Sunday, Mr Ferguson said the government was building new mental health facilities for children and adolescents, which he said was unprecedented in this state.

“Frankly, I think some of these concerns should actually be turned into a pat on the back to the government for actually listening, meeting that service gap and committing to doing so, in fact building the physical facilities that will make it possible,” he said.

AMA state president Stuart Day said the AMA “welcomed” the redeveloped Ward 4K at the Launceston General Hospital, which will provide health services for children and adolescents, including mental health care.

But he said the new K Block at the RHH, expected to be completed by mid-2019, would not be “fit for purpose” and thus would fail to meet “growing” mental health needs in Tasmania.

“It seems [the government] is not listening to good advice about the money they’re putting into the mental health sector,” Dr Day said.

“To build a brand new ward that isn’t fit for purpose seems crazy.”

Dr Day said the lack of outdoor amenities at the RHH’s new psychiatric ward was a particular deficiency.

He called on the state government to provide a timeline for new acute mental health beds that were fit for purpose.

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