Union: decision endangers mentally ill

A STOUSH between the region’s largest healthcare body and a union over mental health services shows no sign of ending before more talks aimed at resolving the dispute next week. 

In January, South West Healthcare (SWH) revealed it would replace weekday after- hours mental health nurses in Portland and Hamilton with video conferencing links to specialists in Warrnambool. 

The move is expected to take place in March next year and won’t cost any jobs. 

But the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) has attacked the decision before more talks are held with SWH management on December 10. 

HACSU state boss Lloyd Williams even went so far as to say the decision would “risk the lives of people with a mental illness”.

“The responsibility to manage mental health patients will lie with local emergency departments that are not staffed nor funded to appropriately manage people in a crisis,” Mr Williams   said. 

“Potentially the already stretched police or ambulance services may end up transferring people from Portland or Hamilton one-and-a-half hours away for assessment by a single triage worker at Warrnambool hospital. (They) they might be assessed via video conferencing, which is ineffective for dealing with a crisis.”

Mr Williams said local psychiatrists were refusing to work with SWH on after-hours video conferencing. 

“We’ve already put a few proposals to them that they won’t accept.” 

But SWH hit back, saying similar decisions were being made around the state. Mental Health Services’ community adult mental health service manager Mac McInnes said Camperdown (also operated by SWH) had been without a “Monday to Thursday out-of-hours worker for more than three years and without incident”.

“The use of telemedicine is proven to improve the timeliness of a clinical response and  in our situation will speed-up the time it takes to have visual contact with psychiatrists,” he said. 

“Our psychiatrists have never refused to use video conferencing in their clinical work with patients and families.” 

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