FINDING a bed for south-west mental health patients in crisis can be "incredibly difficult" and "time consuming", the region's leading expert in the field says.
South West Healthcare mental health services director Karyn Cook told the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System that her staff could try for up to "a number of days" to find a patient a bed when the region's beds were full.
"The manager and I can be making multiple calls to senior people within other health services for 16 to 20 hours or over a number of days," Ms Cook said in a witness statement released on Thursday.
"We are often told that those services are either full, have impending or probable admissions, or may not have the staffing levels to accept new admissions."
It paints a picture of the pressures on the south-west due to a stretched statewide mental health system that the commission is probing.
Ms Cook's submission also says men make up 63 per cent of people receiving "compulsory treatment" for mental health at South West Healthcare. She says this could be due to men being reluctant to seek help early.
Ms Cook points out the nearest child and adolescent mental health beds are at the Royal Children's Hospital and are "not always available" particularly for regional patients.
"Sometimes we are forced to admit children to a non-mental health pediatric bed or adolescent consumers into adult mental health inpatient settings that are not appropriate for the consumer," she told the commission.
The health service is also "not considered large enough" to have a team with specific Indigenous mental health expertise, Ms Cook says, but has funding for one position in Aboriginal community development.
"Our service is not considered large enough to receive appropriate funding to support the south west community of strong and proud Aboriginal people," she said.
Ms Cook said large distances in rural areas put pressure on mental health services to reach where they were needed.
"A potential model could include having teams of mental health clinicians based throughout the south-west Victorian region that are emergency responders," she said.
Chief executive Craig Fraser said after Ms Cook's statement was released that he was supportive of the Victorian government's efforts to improve mental health services.
"Our teams at South West Healthcare do a great job but it is difficult at times given the circumstances related to distances including access to care and the number of limited providers we often experience in country areas," he said.
"My hope is that we see the same mental health outcomes for people in the small country towns or rural areas as their metropolitan counterparts."
But Mr Fraser said South West Healthcare didn't need more beds on top of its 15 acute beds that could be reconfigured to become 20 alongside some safety improvements.
He confirmed it could take days for staff to find beds for patients but said wait times "vary day-to-day".
"If a person can't get into our facility we will endeavor to get them into a metropolitan facility and care for them while we are awaiting that," Mr Fraser said.
"Our mental health unit as it sits at the moment, if we reconfigure some beds, is probably an adequate size.
"The question becomes where does the person best receive care regardless of location, as the south-west region builds there will become a time when some of those services are delivered more locally and some of those beds will be delivered locally."
Crisis support can be found at Lifeline (13 11 14), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) and beyondblue (1300 22 4636).
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