Hospital staff across Perth strike over lack of resources for State’s child mental health services

Wednesday 24 Mar 2021

Originally published in The West Australian 

Mental health workers across Perth went on strike today for further investment into the State’s child services which they claim are buckling under the weight of a case number crisis.

Their action comes a day after two of the State’s largest hospitals declared a code yellow, meaning they were unable to treat all patients in their emergency departments.

A Perth Metro clinical psychologist, who wished not to be named, said the latest code concern demonstrated that underfunding was pushing WA’s health system to breaking point.

Walking off the job at midday, more than 100 health care workers from seven Child Mental Health Service (CAMHS) centres advocated for at least 75 additional clinicians to help the alarming increase of crisis child presentations.

Health Services Union WA Secretary Naomi McCrae said some CAMHS clinics were taking more than 82 referrals already this month.

Her plea for action comes in wake of the death of 13-year-old Perth girl Kate Savage last year after failing to receive adequate mental health support.

“The Chief Psychiatrist’s Targeted Review into the Treatment of Ms Kate Savage by CAMHS, made several recommendations, which the government has not acted on,” she said.

Mental health workers across Perth went on strike today for further investment into the State’s child services which they claim are buckling under the weigh of a case number crisis.
Mental health workers across Perth went on strike today for further investment into the State’s child services which they claim are buckling under the weigh of a case number crisis. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

The clinical psychologist, who has twenty years experience treating children with serious mental health disorders, said child presentations were getting younger.

He said a growing number of patients as young as 13-years-old attempting to take their own life and a child having to wait three months for help was not uncommon.

“The kids who have taken a recent lethal overdose they can get seen within a week or two. The kids who have sat more chronic problems such as bad panic disorders or depression they can wait way too long to get treated,” he said.

“They’ll be all sorts of awful things happening to them in the meantime.

“Say a 10-year-old girl who can’t attend school because of her condition could not return for a term - it’s just not right.

“This problem has just been building. The referral numbers... we had about 300 a year in 2013 and now it’s over 800.”

Many of the child who attend CAMHS centres are filtered through the ED departments.

“At PCH they will stabilise a child then discharge them to a community CAMHS clinic that clinic already has large case load of numbers too treat. Now it’s got to a point where the numbers are too large to do the work. The system is turning more and more numbers away. It’s burning out staff,” he said.

Drugs, school pressure, bullying, family breakdowns, financial issues, social media and identity development are among the complex problems he attributes to the rising number of case numbers.

The code yellow affected Royal Perth and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospitals.

Patients presenting with life-threatening injuries were still being treated by hospital staff.

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