Forgotten victims of health crisis

Wednesday 03 Mar 2021



WA mental health workers say they are so disappointed with the election commitments for children’s mental health they plan to stop work for an hour today in protest.

Staff at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital’s secure mental health unit will take the action to express their disappointment in election promises from both Labor and the Opposition for children’s mental health services.

The group includes clinical psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists, among other allied health workers.

And the Health Services Union which organised the industrial action is discussing with its members further protests in coming weeks.

Among the union’s demands are that both sides of politics commit to urgently hiring 75 extra full-time staff at Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service clinics.

They also want funding for the staffing and resources to put 10 new beds for patients aged 12 to 18 at Fiona Stanley, St John of God Midland and Joondalup Health Campus and for a new Mental Health and Behavioural Unit in the emergency department at Perth Children’s Hospital.

The West Australian spoke to two clinicians with decades of experience who work in the Government’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services who said staff felt “burnt out” and “disillusioned” by what they felt were broken promises to fix the system.

They both pointed to a lack of resourcing in the CAMHS clinics which meant suicidal children and teenagers could be waiting up to 10 weeks for their first appointment.

CAMHS clinics are meant to provide community treatment for young people experiencing serious mental health issues, including suicidality.

Young people discharged from hospital or refused admission are referred to CAMHS, plus those considered too “high risk” for services such as Headspace. However, the clinicians said they had become so overrun with referrals they were not able to provide the level of support young people needed.

“Everyone knows there are gaping holes, the governments make platitude statements but no real change,” one clinician said. This meant children were ending up in hospitals where there were often bed shortages.

Lucy Hedley, 16, pictured, has had firsthand experience with the WA mental health system and said she was frustrated it had not become a major election issue.

Lucy said she had found waiting lists for CAMHS clinics and other service were so long she had needed to present at emergency departments because she became concerned about her own safety. “It got to the point where I couldn’t wait for a four-week waiting period, I needed help now,” she said.

“It’s scary to rock up to an ED, it’s kind of your last option but you also don’t want to wait weeks and weeks for an appointment. My last time I went to the ED in November and CAMHS said they couldn’t see me until February.”

Despite telling the hospital she was having suicidal thoughts and was worried for her safety, each time she had gone to ED she had been denied a bed, Lucy said.

Lucy had become so frustrated by her experiences she even put a video online entitled “Dear Government” to try to get attention on youth mental health before the election.

“Talking to my friends they feel the way I do, they feel sad, anxious and depressed, but like I do they don’t know where to go,” she said.

Health Minister Roger Cook said the Government was “in the middle of a comprehensive and strategic approach to youth mental health”.

Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup rejected criticism his mental health policy was “piecemeal”.

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