Page 182 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 28 November 2012

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Canberra Hospital—adult mental health unit

MR COE: My question is to the Minister for Health. A Health Directorate spokesperson is quoted in the Canberra Times on 1 October stating that the acute adult mental health unit has had an average occupancy rate of 99.4 per cent since opening. The additional beds, promised by Labor in the election, will not be opened until 2016-17. Given that the unit is currently operating with such a high occupancy, how will the unit cope with demand for beds until 2016-17?

MS GALLAGHER: There are extra beds that can be commissioned at the adult mental health unit. In fact, in the last budget we provided some extra funding for that. The ideal bed occupancy, from a clinician’s point of view, is 85 per cent. Most inpatient units run higher than that; 89.4 is high but it is still within a manageable range. We work with the staff in the adult mental health unit.

You cannot have your beds at 70 per cent, because then you have got funded capacity sitting there idle. So there is a line where you have to make sure you are using your beds efficiently and safely. We work with the staff around that. But this is a challenge in every single mental health unit.

Mr Coe: Ninety-nine, not 89.

MS GALLAGHER: Yes. In every single mental health unit in the country, the minute you open beds, they are filled. You can go to any mental health unit anywhere and you will find that that is the story. So it is not just about funding extra beds. It is about extra services in the community. It is about ensuring that the discharge planning and the community sector are able to take people as they step down from care. It is about subacute care, Mr Coe. Some of the agreements we have reached with the commonwealth government over subacute care were extra beds for the mental health sector. Not everyone’s needs can or should or will be met within the acute adult mental health unit. It was not designed for that.

So the responses to where you have high occupancy rates need to be multifaceted responses. A simple answer of just commissioning new beds will not solve anything because those beds could be filled straightaway. Mr Smyth knows it. We all know it. The minute you open beds anywhere in the hospital, those beds are filled.

In terms of responding to high occupancy in a way that is affordable in the long term for a sustainable health system, you have to look at other areas such as the ones I have outlined before.

MADAM SPEAKER: A supplementary question, Mr Coe.

MR COE: What other options are there for patients, such as the case mentioned in the same article where a woman waited three days in an assessment unit, who need inpatient mental health care but cannot access the unit?

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