Mental health bed usage falls

While other district health boards are facing crowded mental health wards and placing patients in rooms not designed for purpose, the Southern District Health Board is using fewer of its acute mental health beds.

Best practice is for an acute mental health facility to be at 85% of capacity, to allow for patients coming in and out of the ward.

Bed occupancy in Southern can be higher than that on any given day, but on average for the past 12 months occupancy has been 81.7%, down from 84.1% for the same period the previous year.

Mental health, addictions and intellectual disability general manager Louise Travers said almost all admissions to acute inpatient, intensive care and sub-acute units were acute, and unplanned.

Demand might have dropped because patients were receiving appropriate care before approaching a crisis.

"The majority of the Southern Mental Health Addictions and Intellectual Disabilities Service's current patients are supported in the community by psychiatrists, nurses and allied health staff," she said.

"This enables patients to be with their support system and in a familiar environment."

On Monday, a Taranaki woman spoke out about being asked to sleep on a mattress on the floor of a lounge at a mental health facility because all the bedrooms were in use.

At the same time a briefing to Health Minister Andrew Little was released, which said there was a significant backlog in long-term patients who had been in acute wards for more than six months, which was stopping people in need from accessing services they required.

Perhaps coincidentally with the drop in acute patients, the SDHB has also recorded a sharp decline in the number of patients who required restraint or seclusion — a practice the SDHB and other boards are trying to eliminate.

Over December and January, restraint was used more than 200 times in Dunedin Hospital, almost double the rate the previous year.

In the most recent figures provided to the SDHB, in April that had dropped to about 100, well below the figure for the preceding year.

Seclusion, used more than 50 times each month over the Christmas and New Year period, was used about 35 times in April, again well down on the same month in 2020.

"Our dedicated staff continue to work hard to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint," Ms Travers said.

"We are utilising a range of interventions that includes de-escalation, the use of safe wards and sensory modulation."


Is this low rate because of a well managed system? Or is it due to the almost impossible process to be seen and assessed fully and instead of just not admitting when required? Given the constant lack of safe staffing in our health system one should question such false praise from a health system in crisis. Be honest low bed rates are due to lack if staffing lack odaporopriate funding and poor management



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