Mental health in rural and regional emergency departments: An issue of equity of access
This paper discusses the findings of a recent study investigating the mental health triage program of a large regional health network, involving consultation with 7 regional/rural emergency departments, the specialist mental health services, and consumers and carers who accessed the service.
The study found that regional and rural emergency services experience extreme difficulty coping with mental health related presentations. The lack of after-hours specialist mental health expertise, grossly inadequate patient transportation systems, and lack of material resources impact significantly on timely and appropriate treatment for people with mental illness.
EDs reported feeling under pressure to manage a wide variety of high risk presentations without adequate training, support, and safety measures in place. Consumers and carers described excessive wait times and barriers to accessing services, resulting in crisis situations escalating into psychiatric emergencies that may have been avoided with timely intervention.
The lack of adequate mental health resourcing to regional and rural EDs is a well-documented and long-standing problem that amounts to inequitable access to quality healthcare for an already marginalised and stigmatised group of healthcare consumers, and highly challenging work environments for rural and regional emergency healthcare providers.
“Impacts & Outcomes” – Mercure, Ballarat 14th – 16th November 2011