More mental health capacity needed to solve hospital crisis: Director General

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Dr Russell-Weisz said having about 130 long-term patients, with complex issues, was the equivalent of about four wards.

“We’re not saying we can move all those patients but they have slowly grown over time,” he said.

“There is a little bit more pressure on our general activity … I’m looking at over the next three months potentially getting up about an extra 70 or 80 general beds.”

The department is trying to open up more beds at RPH and Osborne Park, with Fremantle another option to address the desperate need.

Australian Medical Association WA vice president and Royal Perth Hospital director of emergency medicine David McCoubrie told 6PR 100 beds needed to be opened up immediately.

“There could be as many as 150 beds in the system that are closed and they’re closed because there is not a budget to open them,” he said.

“The AMA has been talking about an immense lack of capacity in our system for years.

“But the system appears to have hit the wall and the record ramping and overcrowding for over six months has been appalling and so difficult for staff and patients.

“All the hospitals have been on and off code yellows recently as well as Fiona Stanley and others.”

Dr McCoubrie said the code yellows were recognition staff had been overwhelmed and had to suspend their business-as-usual practice to cope with demand.

“Often it means there’s probably eight to 10 people locked on our ramps unable to get in with little prospect of capacity being made,” he said.

“So business as usual for us now is managing what feels like a rolling crisis and staff feel that the system is being run on a crisis footing almost every day.

“The waits in the waiting room are absolutely appalling as we have people waiting seven or eight hours to be seen … and I think staff feel it is preventable.”

Australian Nursing Federation WA secretary Mark Olsen said wards were working short-staffed with nurses being asked to pull 18 hour shifts.

He said the problem had been building over the last few months.

“Partly because they’re catching up on elective surgery, partly because they simply don’t have enough nurses,” he said.

“There’s a lot of pressure from the hospital executives to take an extra two patients above their capacity, they call it over-census, there’s no actual places for those patients, they’re put in cupboards, at the end of corridors, in corridors.”

A nurse at Fiona Stanley Hospital who wished to stay anonymous for fear of losing their job said the situation was bad and “getting worse”.

“Every day we are over capacity with a strain on services. We are understaffed, burnt out and under pressure every shift to meet demand that feels unrealistic,” they said.

“We are trying so hard to give the best care every time but this sometimes becomes unachievable and we are facing increased verbal aggression from customers from their frustrations.

“But we can’t complain. I do feel we are failing our patients, but given what other health services are under around the world we haven’t really had to deal with COVID but wonder how we would have and what state our services would be in now?”

Dr McCoubrie said the health system needed to have its house in order for winter, given how busy things were for March – traditionally the quietest month of the year for hospitals.

Recruitment has also been an issue for the system, with international and state border closures limiting hiring options.

The McGowan government has promised to hire 400 more nurses over the next two years with an aim of adding 1400 new nursing graduates total over the same period.

Liberal deputy leader Libby Mettam accused the McGowan government of dropping the ball on the health system crisis.

“There is no community spread of COVID to blame and no flu season,” she said.

“The first step is to ensure our hospitals are effectively resourced and ensure every bed in every ward is open.”

Health Minister Roger Cook is due to speak to the media about the crisis on Wednesday afternoon.

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