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SA Health closes “appalling” Adelaide mental health unit

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SA Health has shut down a northern Adelaide mental health unit after medical staff warned it was “only matter of time” before a preventable death occurs at the “appalling and unsafe” facility, InDaily can reveal.

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SA Health ordered the Mental Health Short Stay Unit at the Lyell McEwin Hospital to stop accepting mental health patient admissions this week, after a doctors’ union safety inspection report revealed several safety and industrial concerns about the facility.

The report, obtained by InDaily, says the facility was unsafe for staff and patients – and that SA Health had been repeatedly warned of problems with the facility.

“Medical officers advised the unit should be shut down given the unsafe nature of the unit and the immediate and potential harm which may be caused to patients and staff,” the report says.

“The (Short Stay Unit) is not clinically safe for patients.”

The Short Stay Unit contained a number of “extremely obvious ligature points” – features of the room that can facilitate strangulation – and several patients had attempted to take their own lives there, according to the report.

It says the facility was not secure and failed to separate mental health patients from surgical patients, who accessed the same bathrooms, and failed to provide patient interview rooms which were safe for staff.

The report was penned by SASMOA senior industrial officer Bernadette Mulholland and released to members this morning.

A spokesperson for SA Health told InDaily mental health patients have been moved to other areas of the hospital in response to medical officers’ concerns, and the unit is now being used to accommodate general admission patients instead.

The Short Stay Unit had been overseen by SA Health’s Northen Adelaide Local Health Network – the same clinical network that had been responsible for overseeing the disgraced Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service.

The State Government closed Oakden after a damning Chief Psychiatrist’s report found patients had been routinely mistreated and abused there, in an environment that was inappropriate for their care.

In striking similarity to Oakden – which had received accreditation from the Commonwealth Accreditation Agency to continue operating up until 2019 – the Lyell McEwin Mental Health Short Stay Unit was fully accredited when SA Health shut it down this week.

“Although the six-bed short stay mental health unit has met all its required accreditations, we take the concerns from Safework SA and SASMOA seriously and will no longer be admitting mental health consumers to the unit,” an SA Health spokesperson told InDaily.

“The beds will now be used for general admission patients and we will create capacity for the consumers that previously would have been admitted to the short stay unit in other areas of the hospital.

“We are looking at options for a permanent Mental Health Short Stay Unit to sit adjacent to our expanded emergency department.”

The spokesperson said the Lyell McEwin Hospital had been approved as a treatment centre under the Mental Health Act.

“The Short Stay Unit is also accredited for trainee registrar and the Adelaide Pre-vocational Psychiatry Program Resident Medical Officers,” the spokesperson said.

The report says safety issues at the Short Stay Unit had been raised with management in 2015 – although according to SA Health the unit had been relocated since then – and again a year ago.

“Approximately 12 months ago, safety issues were again raised with management by workers regarding the overcrowding, lack of space and lack of resources for the workers within the current location that prevented them from carrying out their duties efficiently and safely and ultimately impacting on patient care,” it says.

“Three internal occupational health and safety inspections were undertaken by management in response to staff concerns over the period the Short Stay Unit has been located in this area of the hospital.”

Mulholland says in the report that the Short Stay Unit was “one of the most appalling and unsafe sites” that she had inspected, and that workers had submitted reports warning of safety issues there using SA Health’s reporting mechanism the Safety Learning System (SLS).

“The workers have submitted a number of SLS reports but only one, to their knowledge, had been investigated by (management),” the report says.

It also raises concerns that mental health clinicians had been required to share computer systems with the surgical team “leaving the mental health team unable to enter patient information or to provide patient care in a timely and confidential manner” and outlines a series of occupational health and safety concerns, including inadequate office space.

The Short Stay Unit was set up after a statewide mental health service review by Ernst and Young in 2013 found there was a “disparity in resourcing of mental health services in Northern Adelaide”.

If this article has raised issues for you, you can call LifeLine on 13 11 14 – or you can call the Mental Health Triage Service / Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service on 13 14 65.

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