Bed shortages in Auckland hospitals are causing a mental health crisis, the PSA union says.
Would-be patients are being held in police cells for extended periods of time with nowhere to go, and health staff are working as many as 22 hours in a shift to try to meet bed shortfalls, the union claims.
"The system is streched," said Andy Colwell, a social worker and convenor of the PSA Mental Health and Addiction Committee.
"If we continue down this route then obviously patient care will be compromised."
According to Colwell, there was a 70 percent increase in demand for mental health treatment over the past five-10 years, but it had not been matched by boosts to staffing or beds.
The PSA is calling on the Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) to roll out more inpatient beds to ease the strain.
"We want to provide the best quality care, but we aren't able to provide that care all the time because the system is stretched, and we don't have the resources to provide the need that the population in Auckland requires," Colwell said.
Many colleagues of his were working multiple 15-hour days in a row, and in one case a colleague worked from 8am until 5am the next day in order to sit in a police cell overnight with someone waiting for an inpatient bed, he said.
"We rarely take meal breaks, but that isn't enough to make a difference."
An emergency phone line managed by the ADHB and operated sometimes by just one person has been overloaded with between 50 and 60 calls per shift, and sometimes up to 100, Colwell said.
"We acknowledge the concerns expressed by the PSA on behalf of our staff - we take these seriously and will be discussing them with our staff. We will be responding to the PSA directly in the coming days and are unable to comment further until then," a spokesperson for the ADHB said.