Mental health capacity to be slashed at Wakari

Nearly 13 fulltime jobs in a sub-acute mental health ward in Dunedin will go in a plan to halve its beds from 24 to 12.

The proposal to slash capacity at Wakari Hospital ward 11 was released to Southern District Health Board staff yesterday.

The board has told staff they will all be offered redeployment, but the Public Service Association has raised concerns about whether the offers will be suitable. The union is also concerned community care services will not receive extra resources to cope with the extra demand; however, the health board said it would listen to feedback, and no decisions had been made yet.

Public Service Association southern region organiser Julie Morton said the board claimed the cuts were in line with its policy of providing community-based care, yet it did not propose to beef up community services to meet the resulting increased demand.

Existing services would be forced to absorb extra clients; claims of an improved service were ''meaningless'', Mrs Morton said.

In the community, clients were likely to be cared for by lower-skilled mental health workers, rather than nurses, she said. The impact of clients receiving less clinical time was unknown, she said.

Staff had been told they would all receive redeployment offers, but there were ''fish hooks''. She believed redeployment would most likely be offered in acute mental health settings, where the board had been building vacancies. Many staff, some of whom had decades of experience, were not willing, or were unable, to work in an acute setting.

Staff were ''cynical'' about claims their patients were better off in the community. Admission criteria for the ward, which sometimes admitted patients for more than six months, would probably tighten, with places kept for the more severely ill, she said. Bed numbers would reduce from 24 to 12 by the end of March; the proposal document said the board was funded for 20 beds, and had been ''over-delivering'' for some time.

Average occupancy in the ward over the past two years was about 82%.

The ward would be reconfigured on a single floor rather than two floors. Staff would reduce from 35.49 fulltime equivalent to 22.76, including the loss of seven registered nurses, and more than four enrolled nurses.

The board will release options later this week to give staff a choice over which method it uses to determine which staff will leave the ward. Redundancy payments would not be offered.

The proposed changes helped achieve the objective of putting the community and the patient at the centre of ''everything we do'', the board said in the proposal document.

Mental health nurse director Heather Casey, in a statement emailed by spokesman Steve Addison, said ward occupancy and length of stay had been steadily decreasing.

''We will continue to work with community providers to ensure we provide more care in the community.''

Redeployment options would include positions in community services and inpatient wards, Mrs Casey said.

Staff submissions on the proposal close on February 12.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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