An urgent call to action has been made to address escalating concerns over in-patient capacity at the Launceston General Hospital.
This week an 11-year-old boy spent more than 60 hours at the LGH emergency department, after presenting with acute mental ill-health.
The boy, who attempted self harm, was brought to hospital on Wednesday morning and remained in the emergency department under the supervision of police and security staff on Thursday evening.
It is understood he was brought to the department for assistance with behavioural issues and acute mental ill-health.
On Friday the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Tasmania branch met with emergency department representatives.
Secretary Emily Shepherd said ANMF members had been ignored by the Tasmanian Health Service and the government since industrial action was launched in March.
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“A situation like this puts emergency department staff in an untenable situation. They don’t have the support or medical input to support this patient,” she said.
“It’s about time the Health Minister stepped up and took some responsibility for this situation.”
The boy was discharged from hospital on Friday afternoon. Due to patient confidentiality, a THS spokesman said the department was unable to comment on the case.
Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the government recognised the demand pressures on the hospital system.
In December an inquiry into acute health in Tasmania found that child and adolescent in-patient mental health services were lacking, resulting in “sub-optimal care for young people”.
At the time, Mr Ferguson said the government was addressing the inadequacies.
On Friday he said the government had already agreed to what the ANMF had asked for, in relation to hospital beds at the LGH.
“We are building specialist facilities for children and adolescents in Ward 4K at the LGH, which will open next year,” he said.
“This will be the first time ever that Tasmanians have had access to specialist paediatric inpatient mental health facilities.”
There is $113.7 million in the Tasmanian Health Services budget for statewide mental health services.
Funding for eight new adolescent mental health beds at Launceston will not start until 2019-20, due to the redevelopment of the children’s ward.
Mental Health Council of Tasmania chief executive Connie Digolis acknowledged the government’s commitment to improving mental health services, but said the issues went beyond “just beds” in hospitals.
“Yes, we need to be doing more now because we shouldn't be hearing about cases like this,” she said.
“No one should ever find themselves in a position like this, let alone a vulnerable young child. We should be doing more in the interim.”
Ms Shepherd said as of Friday, more than 20 patients were awaiting in-patient admission at the LGH emergency department.
This included one patient who had been waiting more than 90 hours for an in-patient bed.
Labor spokesman David O’Byrne said the government needed to acknowledge the health system was in crisis.
“It’s an absolute indictment on the Health Minister and the government, that in one hand they say their health system is going well and everything’s in hand, and you have ambulance ramping and you have nurses taking industrial action against their employer,” he said.
“He needs to get involved. He needs to invest the money to ensure that Tasmanians, when they get sick, can be looked after and that our health professionals when they go to work, that they can do the job that they were trained to do.”
Ms Shepherd said that while the union welcomed long-term strategies, the government was doing nothing to solve the current concerns of LGH staff.
“The hands-off approach by the minister and the government is disrespectful to our members, but [also] to patients in the LGH emergency department who deserve to have timely access to quality care,” she said.
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