13 Apr 2021

Mental health acute units went over capacity several times - Waikato Hospital review

2:51 pm on 13 April 2021

Acute patients in mental health and addiction services at Waikato Hospital have outnumbered beds available on a number of occasions, a review has found.

Inside Hospital generic

Waikato mental health services are experiencing high numbers of difficult cases, according to the review (File image). Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Demand for services had increased dramatically over the years, according to the report for the Waikato District Health Board, with mental health services experiencing high numbers of difficult cases.

At the time of the review, 30 patients with high and complex needs were effectively living in acute and forensic wards and were unable to be placed elsewhere.

Overcapacity in acute adult inpatient units was untenable and a recipe for burnout, high staff turnover and was eventually a risk for the DHB, the report said.

Unless there were better community services for less severe cases, the building of a new mental health unit would not alleviate the problem, it said.

The review said mental health services should be situated within communities or close to them.

It also found persistent equity gaps within the mental health system between Māori and non-Māori.

It said significant equity issues had occurred for Māori and people experiencing a serious mental health and addiction illness.

Waiting lists for young people needing psychological services could be as high as 12 months, which it said was unacceptable.

Mental health and addiction services in Waikato provide care and support to about 5000 people each week.

Waikato DHB chief executive Kevin Snee said services had expanded over the years, but there must be clear direction and a requirement for any new investment to build a better integrated and sustainable system to meet these growing challenges.

"Our community can be assured that a high-level of care is provided across all services, but access to some services and the capacity of individual services is a rapidly growing issue."

Review panel chair Dr David Chaplow said the review had been wide ranging and the challenges identified were very similar to those faced by mental health services throughout New Zealand.

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