‘Inhumane’ wait times for treatment blowing out to frightening proportions


15 October 2021

Skyrocketing wait times for mental health patients in South Australia have been slammed by medical experts as “shocking”, “unacceptable”, “inhumane” and a “disgrace”, with health authorities accused of “failing the South Australians who are desperate for mental health services”.

SA Health data released to InDaily shows the number of mental health patients waiting more than 24 hours for a bed has more than quadrupled in three years, while the average ED wait time across Adelaide hospitals is now 11.6 hours (way up from 7.9 in 2017).

The appalling revelations are yet more evidence of a health system in real crisis and why the ANMF (SA Branch) is imploring the community to join our campaign for urgent Action for Health’.

The Royal Adelaide Hospital has the worst delays, InDaily reports, with mental health patients waiting an average of 20.4 hours, while the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is second worst – patients there now wait 16.5 hours on average for a bed.

Adjunct Professor John Mendoza abruptly quit his position as executive director of mental health and prison health services at CALHN in April, telling media he was “not going to be part of a charade” and that the health department “couldn’t organise a chook raffle’’.

He later described South Australia as “the worst jurisdiction in the world” when it comes to leaving people experiencing mental health crises in emergency departments for more than 24 hours.

More than 1,500 mental health patients waited a full day or more in one of Adelaide’s EDs last year for a bed, InDaily reports – a 360 per cent increase in three years, when 327 patients waited more than 24 hours in 2017.

This year is on track to be even worse - with 1,048 patients waiting more than 24 hours, from January to August.

The figures don't include patients who leave hospital before getting a bed.

The total number of mental health presentations has also risen – from 17,169 patients in 2017 to 20,339 last year.

At the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, 3,010 mentally unwell children presented to the emergency department last year – a nearly 50 per cent rise from the 2,024 children in 2017.

Dr Michael Edmonds, SA deputy chair of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, accused health authorities of “failing the South Australians who are desperate for mental health services”.

“Dangerous delays in receiving definitive care are part of widespread system failure across acute psychiatric and community-based mental health,” he said.

Dr Edmonds said that despite continuous warnings from medical experts the State Government had neglected to fix the problem. 

He said long delays to admission resulted in beds being unavailable for new patients arriving in the emergency department and contributed to ambulance ramping. 

“Either this Government – or the next - must finally step up and fix this completely unacceptable situation,” he said.

Dr Patrick Clarke, a spokesperson for the SA branch of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, called on the State Government to “get real” about funding mental health adequately.

“Other states have recognised this problem and are acting on it, with massive funding increases in NSW, Victoria and WA,” he said.

“South Australia needs to do likewise.’’

Read the full InDaily story here