Doctors angry at reform delays
Kept busy: Emergency departments are reporting increased problems with mental health patients. Picture: Michael O'Brien/The West Australian

WA's peak medical group has accused the Government of significant stalling and inaction over recommendations in the most comprehensive review of WA's public mental health services.

The Australian Medical Association WA says more West Australians are taking their own lives because of the Government's failure to improve mental health services.

The West Australian can reveal key recommendations made by Professor Bryant Stokes almost two years ago, such as the urgent need for more beds for young mental health patients, have not been implemented.

AMA WA president Michael Gannon said medics in general practice and emergency departments were reporting increased problems with mental health patients.

"It would seem there has been some significant stalling on the recommendations of that review," Dr Gannon said.

"I don't think it's fair to personalise this issue to the minister, but I don't think there has been enough leadership on the issue.

"We just need to see more investment in the area, more leadership in the area, a recognition of the size of the problem and a reduction in the suicide rate.

"Other States in Australia are demonstrating reductions in suicide at the same time we're seeing increases."

After _The West Australian _ highlighted a series of suicides of people who tried to get help from WA's overstretched mental health services, Mental Health Minister Helen Morton asked Professor Stokes, the respected former WA chief medical officer, to review the whole system.

Professor Stokes, who is now acting Department of Health director-general, interviewed almost 900 people over six months and investigated 255 suicides.

He found 15 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women who took their own lives in WA died on the day they were discharged from a mental health hospital. One-third died within a month.

Professor Stokes said bed numbers for adolescent mental health patients and for children and young people in rural areas had to be increased.

To date, no additional dedicated beds for children and young people have been created.

The Department of Health said "this challenge is being considered" and though 13 new beds in Broome and seven in Albany were "not specifically designed for youth, they are available to young people when required".

Professor Stokes said only basic mental health care was available in some parts of WA and staffing levels were only about half what they needed to be.

The review found 63 per cent of patients were not assessed properly for their condition and suicide risk when they sought help for mental health problems.

The Department of Health said WA's Chief Psychiatrist was developing formal standards for patient care and treatment.

Mrs Morton said the Government was committed to implementing the Stokes Review recommendations and pointed to initiatives under way.

"These include the introduction of subacute services, the Hospital in the Home program, trials of an inter-hospital patient transfer service, assertive community intervention teams and both the youth and adult mental health court diversion programs," she said.

Dr Gannon said the Stokes Review was "getting old" and the Government's response to inquiries about the progress towards its recommendations was inadequate.

The AMA will meet with Mental Health Commissioner Tim Marney next week to discuss its concerns.

The West Australian

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