Push for more mental health support

Liaison lifeline: Clinical psychologist Dr Keith Mowat and Vasse MLA Libby Mettam have campaigned for a psychiatric liaison nurse for over two years. Photo: Jesinta Burton.
Liaison lifeline: Clinical psychologist Dr Keith Mowat and Vasse MLA Libby Mettam have campaigned for a psychiatric liaison nurse for over two years. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

With increasing pressure on the region's emergency department, Vasse MLA Libby Mettam has called on the state government to prioritise the recruitment of a psychiatric liaison nurse at Busselton Health Campus.

Ms Mettam has been campaigning to see the position funded for more than two years after being approached by local mental health professionals, including local psychologist Keith Mowat.

It is understood the position was set to be in place by the end of 2019, but the hospital is still waiting.

While acknowledging that staff at Busselton Health Campus go above and beyond, Ms Mettam said the role would provide the expertise and support essential for those that present to the emergency department with mental health issues.

"What has become quite clear is that there is a need to provide a greater level of expertise to patients when they do present to emergency," she said.

"There have been situations where people have been sent to Bunbury only to be turned back.

"The staff at Busselton Hospital do a fantastic job and, more recently, have been supported by a Mental Health Emergency Telehealth Services.

"However, the provision of a psychiatric liaison nurse would greatly support the staff and provide the expertise that is essential for people who present to ED with mental health issues.

"This is not a huge investment in resources that we're talking about, but it is a position that can help inform the professional workplace and improve the level of expertise.

"I urge the Minister to ensure this recruitment process is prioritised."

Clinical psychologist Dr Keith Mowat said there were huge risks associated with hospitals being understaffed and ill-equipped to deal with acutely suicidal patients and the role would help bridge that gap.

While the suicide rate in WA has been steadily increasing in recent years, locally, the presentation rates have decreased - something Dr Mowat believes boils down to patients having given up on attending emergency because of lengthy wait times and inadequate assessments.

"We're very limited in terms of what we can provide locally for people who are acutely suicidal or psychotic," he said.

"These are things that we cannot contain in a one-hour session and we're normally told that people must present to the Emergency Department.

"Often the department is understaffed and [staff are] overworked and not able to provide proper assessments.

"A lot of the staff aren't trained in mental health and someone acutely suicidal can be turned away or not properly assessed.

"Obviously, that's a huge risk.

"The psychiatric liaison nurse would go some way to bridging that gap.

"That's the first step, and it's something we've been working towards for two years now.

"It's certainly part of something we hope to be much bigger - hopefully a facility.

"It's been two years work to get this far and we still haven't seen anything."

Acting WA Health Minister Rita Saffioti said the state's Country Health Service had begun recruitment for the position and the state government looked forward to the completion of the process.

"The state government looks forward to the completion of this process so that residents of Busselton and the surrounding community can access this important service," she said.

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