Mental health wards 'discharging people to caravan parks'

People leaving mental health wards are sometimes being sent to caravan parks as there's no other accommodation available, according to a new report released by the Auditor-General.

The report focuses on mental health patients being discharged from hospital. It outlines that in some cases patients that are not well enough to be discharged from mental health services are being sent home at short notice - to make way for those that are "more unwell".

"Some inpatient units have high occupancy rates sometimes beyond their capacity and in some places there is limited availability of community services, such as suitable accommodation, to discharge people to," the report says.  

While some were being discharged at short notice, some patients couldn't be discharged because there was nowhere for them to go - leaving fewer beds available for others. The Auditor-General's analysis found that 80 people had "extremely long lengths of stay, which number months or years rather than days".

Finding suitable accommodation was a barrier for many mental health patients, there were barriers including costs in some regions and a shortage of accommodation options for people with complex needs.

"Workarounds are sometimes put in place, such as discharging people to caravan parks," the report found.

DHBs consistently failed to meet their targets to follow up with people within seven days of discharging people from inpatient units.

Just two-thirds of patients were followed up with within seven days of leaving care - well below the target of 90 percent, while some people were not followed up at all.

Deputy controller and Auditor-General Greg Schollum says the pressures on mental health units and community services need to be addressed to allow for better discharge planning.

"People with mental health problems can be discharged from hospital without a plan for their broader needs, such as getting help with housing, their finances, or support from their employer or family.

In my view, improvements are urgently needed for discharge planning to be more effective in enabling better outcomes for people with mental health problems."

"We are in big trouble" - Labour leader Andrew Little            

Labour leader Andrew Little says, "You've got a service that is stretched to breaking point. You've got mental health professionals who are stressed out, burnt out, struggling to do their job. We are in big trouble.

"You cannot rule out that people will have died as a consequence of the stress the system is under, the inadequate and incomplete treatment that patients have got."

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the report is concerning and DHBs "need to lift their game to address the issues in that report".

He says there is enough funding from the Government.

Public Service Association national secretary Erin Polaczuk says there needs to be a full, independent and national inquiry into the mental health system.

"People are often being hustled back into the community as quickly as possible because their beds are required by others with more severe needs. In many cases, there's no real plan for the next steps - their accommodation in the community, their ongoing mental health needs, and how to follow up with them after.

"The consequences of hurried re-entry into the community without adequate planning is severe - it's more readmissions, it's worsening mental health issues, and it's suicide."

Green Party health spokesperson Julie Anne Genter says the report shows the mental health system is broken and "the Health Minister needs to bear responsibility for this. It is just not good enough."

"We need to reinstate the Mental Health Commission to ensure that a light is shone on what is happening in some of the dark corners of mental health services in this country. Having a full mental health inquiry would get these issues the attention that they desperately need."

Where to get help: