28 Nov 2021

Patients with mental health needs: DHB blames poor rating on difficulty of filling liaison role

6:52 pm on 28 November 2021

A performance overview of MidCentral District Health Board's mental health and addiction services has found it is "behind plan" with working with Palmerston North Hospital's emergency department when people arrive with mental health needs.

Palmerston North Hospital

Palmerston North Hospital Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The health board says the rating is because it hasn't been able to fill a vacancy for a position liaising between the two divisions.

A coroner's investigation is under way in relation to a death in June, where a 58-year-old man suffered injuries at the hospital in a suspected attempted suicide and died six days later. He was initially seen in the emergency department.

In a report to the health board's health and disability advisory committee this month, the mental health and addiction services received 13 "on track" ratings and one "behind plan" score, relating to services in Horowhenua and Tararua.

For working with acute and elective specialist services and "supporting the emergency department for people presenting with mental health needs", it was rated "behind plan - major risks, exception report required".

Mental health and addiction services operations executive Scott Ambridge said in November last year the Health Ministry provided money to district health boards to help establish a clinical educator role in emergency departments for four years.

"This funding also covered developing a service plan for building capability and confidence in responding to distress that is tailored to meet the needs of the emergency department(s) and population," he said in a statement.

After three rounds of recruitment, internationally and nationally, the MidCentral role remained unfilled, the reason for the "behind plan" rating.

The role had since been changed to one within the mental health and addiction services, "providing consultation, liaison and support into the emergency department".

The recruitment process would start soon, Ambridge said.

He did not answer questions about whether an "exception report" has been written.

The hospital's mental health ward was found not fit for purpose after two suspected suicides of patients in 2014. A new ward is expected to open late next year.

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