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Senior mental health nurse quits SA Health

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A senior mental health nurse has quit his post with SA Health after 21 years, saying it’s “time to stop trying to fix what is out of my control”.

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The nurses union says his resignation is symptomatic of a system in crisis, with mental health patients facing increasingly long delays in emergency departments and clinicians burning out.

It comes as SA Health appoints an experienced forensic psychiatrist to the executive mental health role vacated by outspoken State Government critic Professor John Mendoza.

David Hains, a mental health nurse consultant at Flinders Medical Centre, quit on Friday, announcing his decision on Twitter on the weekend.

“Yesterday I quit my job in SA Health after 21 years of faithful and dedicated service,” he stated.

“Thank you to all of my wonderful colleagues.

“Now time to stop trying to fix what is out of my control, and start working on what I CAN do.”

Hains – who has nearly 30 years experience in general and mental health nursing including nearly 20 years in emergency departments – also runs a private service, Left Turn Solutions.

In 2018, he was awarded the prestigious Mental Health Nurse Achievement Award by the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses.

He declined to comment on his decision to quit SA Health when contacted by InDaily, but the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation said it was a big loss for the struggling public system.

“I’m not aware of David Hains’s circumstances so I can’t comment specifically on his reasons for resignation,” ANMF state secretary Elizabeth Dabars said.

“But certainly in his tweet that he published, we certainly share his frustrations at the lack of movement in the area.

“We know that the mental health system has been in crisis for months. It’s been under extreme duress and we have criticised the government publicly for their lack of actions or their plans to fix.”

Dabars said the State Government was expanding capacity in emergency departments “but there’s no in-hospital capacity, there’s no greater hospital capacity, and there certainly is no greater community capacity either”.

“There’s a major problem with the number of available mental health staff and we know that these pressures are causing people to become extremely fatigued and extremely frustrated,” she said.

“It’s bringing morale right down. I haven’t seen it lower levels. People feel so frustrated and unable to deliver appropriate, safe and quality care to their patients.”

Dabars said more beds were needed in the system, particularly inpatient and psychiatric intensive care beds “to get people out of the emergency department”.

“It seems to have fallen on deaf ears,” she said.

“And it’s deeply frustrating for staff.”

“They’ve got huge gaps in the rosters…

“The clinicians are amazing and do an incredible job but they are just stymied at every turn.

“The lack of resourcing, the lack of support and the lack of structure that would enable them to provide good and decent care, it just doesn’t exist at the moment.

“So (I) have every empathy for what has been put in (Hains’s) tweet.”

Opposition health spokesperson Chris Picton also said Hains’s resignation highlighted ongoing problems in the system.

“It is concerning when senior, experienced staff decide to leave our overburdened mental health system,” he said.

“This comes after the spectacular departure of John Mendoza, and the reports of two senior psychiatrists leaving the system.

“Patients are waiting days for care, and staff are at the end of their tether. It is no wonder with such overwhelming pressure that there are senior staff leaving the system.”

In a statement SA Health said: “We are unable to comment on matters relating to the employment of individuals, however as one of South Australia’s largest employers with a workforce of more than 40,000 people, it’s unsurprising to see resignations and staff movements within our organisation.”

In April, Adjunct Professor John Mendoza resigned from his position as executive director of mental health and prison health services at the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN), a year into his three-year contract, blasting the department and State Government for failing to act on reform.

“I’m not going to waste my time in a sense pretending I’m part of some reform effort when it’s not there,” he told InDaily, at the time.

SA Health has just announced his replacement – experienced forensic psychiatrist Dr Paul Furst, who is SA branch chair of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

Furst, who has also been outspoken on the need for reform, said he was “excited” about his “challenging” new role.

“It’s one that has potential to have a wide effect not just across Central Adelaide’s mental health portfolio and the prison health service, but I guess the Central Adelaide mental health program also has a significant effect on the rest of the state’s mental health system,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to being able to hopefully have some positive effect on that.

“Obviously it is a challenging role but I think as John Mendoza has already noted it’s a good executive and clinical team with Central Adelaide so I’m looking forward to joining them, working with them to try and improve the mental health system and work with the prison health service.”

Furst will retain his role as chair of the SA branch of the RANZCP and says he will continue to speak out on gaps in the system.

“I think it will just be a matter of being very clear about any statements or comments that I have to make about what role I’m speaking from,” he said.

“It’s important to speak out when there are problems in the system and call attention to those.

“We have to be able to do that and have robust and respectful debate about our mental health system so that we can actually keep on improving it because that’s the aim of all of us who keep turning up to work in the system.

“It’s a system under enormous strain at the moment. All of the people involved in the mental health system – from the executives right down to every last employee – all want the best things for the patients they look after.”

Picton said it was “welcome that Paul Furst has been promoted and I wish him well”.

“It is positive that CALHN CEO Lesley Dwyer has made this appointment despite Dr Furst being an outspoken critic of the Marshall Government’s mental health delivery,” he said.

“Paul has a huge challenge to address the longest ever mental health delays – which have been labelled the worst in the world.

“The first task will be to try to convince Health Minister Stephen Wade to scrap the $5 million cuts that John Mendoza revealed were hitting RAH and QEH mental health.”

Dabars said Furst was “extremely capable”.

“It’s good that they’ve been able to attract someone to that position of his calibre,” she said.

“I think fundamentally the problem remains that the issues that Professor Mendoza raised on his departure have not been resolved and I think that’s very distressing.

“And it’s going to make the work very, very difficult but again we call on the government to make the changes that are necessary.

“From speaking with Paul, I certainly know that he knows what the issues are and he also knows what many of the solutions are and I hope that he’s very effective in his role.”

InDaily has contacted Health Minister Stephen Wade for comment.

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