Mental Health

16 Nov 2006 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse a question about staffing in acute mental health units.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The opposition has received information that in the past month two wards which care for people with acute mental illness have been under considerable pressure due to lack of staffing, and in particular nursing staff. One of these is the Margaret Tobin Centre. I have received an email which says that the Margaret Tobin Centre beds are not being used at full capacity because they do not have enough nurses to attend to patients. As a result, private organisations have been asked whether they could take patients on as a short-term measure.

Then, more recently, I have received information in relation to the C3 ward at the Royal Adelaide Hospital whereby, in the past month, this ward has been down to only one registered nurse per shift. This email says that the hospital cannot find regular staff and NASA, which is a nursing agency, can no longer fill the gaps. The email also says that this particular ward has a reputation of being a dangerous ward for staff to work on. My questions to the minister are:

1. Can she confirm that metropolitan acute units are indeed under pressure because of a lack of nursing staff?

2. Can she advise how many beds are operational within the Margaret Tobin Centre and the Royal Adelaide Hospital?

3. What impact has this had on waiting lists for people trying to get into acute beds in our hospitals?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse): I thank the honourable member for her questions. I have reported in this place before on the ongoing struggle that we have not only here in South Australia but also nationally, and there are some international trends, about being able to recruit and retain mental health care professionals— nursing staff in particular, and psychiatrists.

We have an extensive strategy in place to assist us, as best we can, to fill the positions that we need to fill. I have reported in this place recently that the holiday season, in particular, placed some strain on our system in terms of staffing, but I can assure all members here that, in terms of our mental health services, we continue at all times to provide safe, quality care.

Again, I place on the record the incredibly valuable work of the mental health staff and their fabulous efforts. They really do go beyond the call and are truly exceptional people.

We owe them a lot, and they are to be admired for the work they do. As I have said, periodically we are under stress in terms of being able to fill all positions, and I understand currently we are under some pressure as well. But, as I have indicated, I can reassure every member here that, in terms of our mental health services, we continue to provide safe, quality care. In terms of the specifics sought by the honourable member, I do not have those details with me and am happy to provide them if they are available, and to bring back a response.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I have a supplementary question, Mr President. Can the minister confirm whether the situation is still occurring regarding the shortages, or whether it has been resolved at Flinders and Royal Adelaide?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: As I have said, I am generally aware that our system periodically has problems in terms of filling all positions. I understand there are some issues at the present time. I am not aware that they are particularly extensive or serious but, as I have said, I do not have the details of that. I am happy to ascertain that information and bring back a response.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I have a further supplementary question. Is the minister saying she has not received a briefing on this issue?

The PRESIDENT: I heard the minister’s answer. The Hon. Mr Wortley.