Hospital fears ahead of refugee arrival

A Sydney hospital already at crisis point will come under further pressure when Syrian refugees start arriving, a parliamentary inquiry has been warned.

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Alison Chapman from the Nurses and Midwives Association NSW has worked at Blacktown Hospital in Sydney’s west for 14 years and says it’s at crisis point, struggling with a lack of resources.

“I believe we’re getting a lot of Syrian refugees who I believe (have) quite a lot of mental illness – we need more services,” she told the Senate inquiry into health policy on Wednesday.

The bed shortage is so bad, she’s seen people sit two days in the emergency department waiting room for a bed.

Ms Chapman says the hospital is struggling to attract doctors.

It’s a low socio-economic area impacted by the drug ice and many registrars don’t want to train there.

A new 20-bed mental health rehabilitation unit had only been treating five patients for the past year because there was no doctor.

“That unit is state of the art, they all have an en suite, it’s how mental health should be but we get frustrated in the community because there have been beds sitting empty.

“That’s a terrible waste.”

Another mental health service for young people has had no doctor for six months.

Patients should be admitted to mental health rehabilitation facilities after receiving acute care and then be released into the community well, but that’s not happening.

“They’re coming out very unwell,” Ms Chapman said.

Instead of treating mentally-ill people in their homes, they’re now clogging up emergency department waiting rooms, at a much higher cost to taxpayers.

It’s also dangerous for staff and other patients, as demonstrated by the January shooting at Nepean Hospital in which a police officer and security guard were shot.

An incident occurred at Blacktown Hospital just last week, she said.

“Mental health patients are treated a little bit with contempt – people are frightened.”

The coalition government has been accused of ripping $57 billion from Australia’s hospitals over the next decade, including $17 billion from NSW, after it backed away from the former Labor government’s funding agreement with the states and territories.

From July 2017, growth in commonwealth funding will instead be based on the inflation rate and population growth – an arrangement the states argue is unsustainable.