The State Government is cracking down on hospitals where mentally unwell patients languish in emergency departments for days because they cannot get a bed.
Mental Health Minister Roger Cook will enforce a strict “memo to minister” system, making it mandatory for hospitals to tell him if a patient has been held in emergency for 24 hours.
In November, doctors called for a 24-hour limit, arguing WA had some of the worst delays for treatment and beds, with some mentally ill people waiting three or four days in casualty.
Mr Cook said long waits for mental health patients ultimately affected all patients in emergency departments.
“It is the wrong place for them to be treated and results in poor outcomes for them and other patients around them,” he said yesterday. “I want to know if vulnerable, mentally ill patients are spending long periods in emergency departments waiting for a bed.”
For the first time, mental health staff will also get real-time data showing them the number of patients waiting for admission at each hospital and the location of empty mental health beds.
At present, staff have to ring around hospitals to try to find out if there are spare beds and if they are secure or suitable for teenagers.
A service that transfers mental health patients between hospitals — but only between noon and 10pm — will be extended to 24 hours a day by the middle of this year.
Mr Cook said the changes were being backed up by an extra 72 mental health beds in WA, including an eight-bed mental health observation area and 12-bed acute psychiatric unit at Royal Perth Hospital.
Joondalup Health Campus will have up to 30 new beds and St John of God Midland Public Hospital will get a mental health observation unit with four beds and two chairs.
Geraldton Regional Hospital — where an elderly woman was forced to lie on the floor of the emergency department because there were no beds — will get a four-bed mental health short-stay unit and 12 acute psychiatric beds.
The mandatory reporting of patients waiting in emergency departments for more than 24 hours will start on July 1, while the live “dashboard” showing the number of patients waiting and any spare beds will start by the end of next month.
It comes as an updated plan for mental health, alcohol and drug services has been sent to key industry and community groups seeking their comments by next month.