Leaked emails reveal mental health crisis at hospital
ROYAL Darwin Hospital is so overloaded with mental health patients that a psychotic patient was this week sedated and put on a ventilator for their own safety and the safety of hospital staff.
Emails between RDH health workers leaked to the NT News reveal the depth of the crisis, which has seen up to 16 acute mental health patients who should be in secure psychiatric facilities instead admitted to medical and surgical wards at a time.
A health worker told the NT News they were coming under pressure from management to discharge patients who should remain in care.
That placed "significant stress" on medical staff who would be held responsible by the coroner in the event of a patient suicide, the doctor said.
"This is a major public health crisis and it just gets swept under," a worker wrote in one of the leaked emails.
"I have never spent so much time with the security team as I have in the last two weeks, who have been very good thankfully. Being over 100 per cent capacity is one thing. Being at 150 per cent without any plans to manage this is not acceptable for the staff and patients."
Several workers told the NT News of an incident in which a psychotic patient was sedated and intubated because no beds were available on the secure mental health ward.
The health department denies the treatment was a result of a lack of beds, but that has been contradicted by several health sources.
The medical risks associated with doing so were "unparalleled", one said.
In another of the emails seen by the NT News, a worker wrote of an incident in which a suicidal patient locked themselves in a toilet and attempted self harm with a dismantled pencil sharpener.
Other doctors wrote of their concerns "actively suicidal" patients were put in rooms with multiple hanging points.
"And there is a lot of (cables) around and impossible to remove all. Risk management cannot be properly executed," one wrote.
"The impact on visiting families who have loved ones who are unwell is also distressing." Australian Medical Association NT branch president Robert Parker, who is also RDH's director of psychiatry, said the system was in "substantial crisis".
"We've got a massive overload, the ward is running at 150 per cent capacity and patients are having to be managed in RDH because the inpatient unit is constantly fully occupied," Dr Parker said.
The AMA has proposed solutions to Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles, including repurposing the four-year-old youth mental health inpatient unit and the underused Palmerston Hospital.
"But that involves capital funding and unfortunately when the Government chooses to spend $12 million on a grandstand at the racecourse they've got very little ability to go to the Federal Government to ask for extra capital," Dr Parker said.
The AMA's national president Tony Bartone will be in Darwin this week and the NT News understands he will raise the mental health crisis with Ms Fyles.
Ms Fyles on Tuesday said Top End Health had put on additional staff to "ensure patient safety" on affected wards.
She declined to comment on reports of frequent suicide attempts by patients forced onto medical and surgical wards.
"The current situation is not acceptable, which is why we are taking steps to fix the problem," she said.
"We are not discharging patients unless it is safe to do so, and we are ensuring the most acute patients are in mental health beds."
The Federal Government has committed $14 million towards a new inpatient mental health facility, which is scheduled to be built some time before 2025.