Mental health fix takes time
No quick fix: Acting Department of Health director-general Bryant Stokes. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

WA's health chief says progress is being made to mend the State's ailing mental health system but he admits not enough has been spent on capital investment, including more beds.

Acting Department of Health director-general Bryant Stokes, who wrote a damning report in 2012 with 117 recommendations to improve services, said there was no quick fix for a system that had been neglected for decades by successive governments.

"I didn't expect in 2012 that they were going to be able to implement all the recommendations in five minutes, because the whole system was a disaster," he said.

"It was never going to be solved overnight, and a significant capital investment is required and it's going to take time to do that."

Professor Stokes' review found the mental health system was fragmented, under-resourced and lacked cohesion.

It needed non-acute beds, community rehabilitation beds and supported housing.

Professor Stokes said yesterday one-quarter of the recommendations had been met and the remainder were on their way to being completed.

"The big issue I would agree with is that there hasn't been any significant capital investment at this stage, and we have a couple of projects at risk of whether they can be completed," he said. "One area in particular where I would like to see more progress is the step-down bed facilities, but I wouldn't be sitting here now if I didn't think we were progressing on the recommendations."

He also conceded other areas struggling to be completed included the development of a more robust patient records system, more involvement of carers and individual mental health plans for patients.

But the 10-year mental health services plan, which was his key recommendation, was finished and due to go to Mental Health Minister Helen Morton.

"That has taken a long time to do, because when a system is quite disconnected as I found it, it takes time to turn it around and change perceptions and attitudes," Professor Stokes said.

Shadow health minister Roger Cook criticised the Barnett Government for having had the Stokes Review for almost two years and not having implemented its recommendations.

He said his biggest concern was the capacity of mental health services into the future.

"One of the biggest issues in the Stokes Review is around child mental health services yet, in the meantime, the Government has developed a new children's hospital with eight extra beds Statewide," he said.

"The big issues confronting us in the future will be mental health issues in children."

Mr Cook said that he had not found a hospital administrator or clinical staffer who was not concerned about mental health patients in emergency departments.

The West Australian

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