Emergency departments pushed past their limits with mental health issues

One in four people with mental health concerns are forced to wait at least eight hours in emergency departments for an inpatient bed.

It's up from the four in 100 people who had to wait the same length of time the year before, prompting calls for more funding for community mental health care.

A hard seat in a bland waiting room full of other sick people is the reality many face when they enter emergency departments.

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine says it's not a suitable environment to stay in for long periods for anyone with acute medical concerns let alone those with mental health concerns. 

"It's not good for them to stay in excess of eight, 12, sometimes 24 hours," said Dr John Bonning from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine. 

No one knows how big the problem is so the College took a snapshot. 

Over a week in December 2017, nearly four percent of people who went to six unnamed hospital Emergency Departments had a mental health-related reason.

During a week in October the following year, that increased to seven percent at five Hospital Emergency Departments.

In 2017 four in 100 of those people had to wait more than eight hours for an inpatient bed. This increased to one in four in 2018 

"It just takes a long time for the mental health nurses to finish with their other patients and get to some of these people," said Dr Bonning.

Emergency doctors have some recommendations for the Government.

These include collecting more accurate data on the number of people going to Emergency Departments with mental health-related reasons and how long they have to wait. 

They also want better resourcing of community mental health care to reduce the reliance on EDs.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has acknowledged the need for better care.

"We know we need to take mental health seriously, it's been a strong message from New Zealanders since we took office and we'll be looking to address that in the budget," she said.

The Australasian College of Emergency Medicine is also looking at what it can do and will host a summit next month to decide what can be done to improve the situation for patients. 

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