Police tied up supervising mental health patients at Royal Hobart Hospital, Andrew Wilkie says
Tasmanian police officers are increasingly tied up dealing with mental health patients at the over-stretched Royal Hobart Hospital, according to Andrew Wilkie.
The independent Member for the Hobart seat of Denison said police were routinely stuck at the hospital emergency department (ED).
Mr Wilkie said the officers were supervising unadmitted mental health patients waiting for a bed.
He has called for more support for the officers and resources for the hospital.
“They are being taken off the beat either for the protection of that individual or for public safety,” Mr Wilkie said.
He said normally two officers were required to sit with a patient for up to four hours.
“They want to get out there and get on the beat to do the sort of work that they’re trained and required to do,” Mr Wilkie said.
“They don’t want to be sitting in the ED for four hours all because the Royal Hobart Hospital and mental health is so under-resourced,” he said.
“It is impacting on the morale of police officers.”
He said the issue was leaving a lack of police on the ground, particularly at smaller police stations, and leaving communities exposed.
Mr Wilkie called on the State Government to hold an urgent summit on mental health.
He said while he was pleased to see a recent summit on the housing crisis, the issue of mental health was just as critical.
“Barely a day goes by when that the problems at the Royal Hobart Hospital and the problems with mental health more broadly are not in the media,” he said.
“Remember the people who are in the ED with a police officer — these are some of the most serious cases of a mental health episode.
“Of all the people in the ED, these are some of the people that most need urgent medical attention.
“It’s not fair on the medical staff, it’s not fair on the police officers and it’s certainly not fair on the person having a mental health episode.”
Emily Shepherd, from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, described the situation as “completely unacceptable”.
She said a lack of beds in the state’s hospitals was the key issue, plus problems recruiting psychiatric emergency nurses.
“Certainly our members are distressed that mental health patients have to wait significant periods of time in emergency department waiting rooms particularly under police escort,” she said.
System failing, Labor says
Labor spokesman Josh Willie criticised what he said was inefficient spending of scarce government funds.
“Police are hard working on the front line keeping the community safe,” Mr Willie said.
“Having to deal with mental health issues and patients means that’s a failure of the health system,” he said.
“There are not enough mental health beds within the hospitals or in the community and that is spilling over into our communities.
“Mental health patients are being put in unsafe situations.
“In some instances they are being discharged early because there is such demand on the service.
“The Health Minister needs to outline how he’s going to address this issue.”
The Treasurer Peter Gutwein has defended the use of police in hospitals.
Mr Gutwein said it was a matter of safety.
“What we need to ensure is that both patients and staff are kept safe and that’s the role the police are playing at the moment,” he said.
He said the Government had committed $95 million over six years for mental health services.
Mr Gutwein also said the Government had increased the size of the Tasmanian police service by more than a hundred in the last term of government.
“We’ve also announced we will be increasing it again this term, around 125 more police,” he said.
Mental health at crisis point, police association says
Tasmania’s Police Association has labelled the mental health situation in Tasmania’s hospitals and communities as a crisis.
The association’s vice president Gavin Cashion said police had been called on to be interim mental health workers too long and too often.
“Police spend many hours performing the work of other agencies including the Mental Health service,” Mr Cashion said.
“In many instances, due to an individual’s violent behaviour or potential for violence towards themselves or ambulance staff, police will be called upon in the first instance,” he said.
He said police had no issue with protecting the public or providing safe and secure transport … but two officers being forced to wait strained already-stretched staffing levels.
“The failure of some other agencies to provide a similar 24-hour response needs to be addressed,” he said.
Mr Cashion said the other option, if peopled were not deemed suitable to be held at the hospital, was a prison cell.
“There needs to be a place of safety that we can take those people and they can be cared for in the right environment by the right people,” he said.
“I think it’s something that needs to be explored.”
Mr Cashion said the situation was worse in regional and rural areas.
“[In] some country areas like New Norfolk, where you’ve only got a couple of people on, those couple of people taken off the road means there’s nobody in the town to do the policing,” he said.
“It’s stressful for everybody, it’s stressful for the person concerned, stressful for the other people in the waiting room and stressful for the police.”