Andrew Wilkie calls for probe into whether suicide rate is linked to lack of hospital beds


Posted

October 05, 2018 17:09:38

Independent Denison MP Andrew Wilkie is calling for a coronial investigation into whether there is a link between Tasmania’s suicide rates and the reduction of acute mental health beds at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

Key points:

  • Suicide rate in Tasmania is higher than national average
  • Mr Wilkie says higher rate coincided with reduction in acute mental health beds
  • Opposition supports investigation, but Government says Mr Wilkie is using suicide to “score political points”

Statistics released last week show Tasmania’s suicide rate was 15.6 per 100,000 people in 2017, higher than the national rate of 12.6.

The updated suicide rate was lower than in the previous two years, but all three years were higher than any other rate in the past decade.

Mr Wilkie said Tasmania’s above-average suicide rate had coincided with a reduction of 10 acute beds at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

In a letter to chief coroner Olivia McTaggart, he said “I am writing to ask that you consider a coronial investigation into the link between the shortage of mental health beds at the Royal Hobart Hospital, as well as the lack of follow-up care for discharged patients, and suicides”.

“I believe this is a matter of public interest and public safety.

“I have genuine concerns regarding this matter based on information provided to me by RHH staff and the experiences of several constituents and their families.”

Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson said Mr Wilkie was politicising a serious issue.

Mr Ferguson pointed to the new figures, which show Tasmania’s suicide rate decreased in 2017 from the previous year.

“Even if the number of suicides had increased, Mr Wilkie has no right to try to score political points on this issue,” Mr Ferguson said.

“Today’s cheap shot will disenfranchise and discourage many individuals and groups who are working together to actually help people of risk.”

The Government has promised 25 new mental health beds, but it remains unclear when they will open.

Mr Wilkie denied that his call for an investigation was about scoring political points.

“This is about saving lives,” he said.

In 2016, coroner Simon Cooper found a man who had been diagnosed with depression and admitted to the Royal Hobart Hospital took his own life after no beds on the mental health ward were made available.

Mr Cooper found it was likely the man would not have committed suicide if there had been sufficient mental health beds.

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Royal Hobart Hospital staff association chairman Frank Nicklason said it was an issue that should be considered, and the coroner would be well placed to garner the sources and experts needed to establish whether there was a link.

“Establishing causality that the reduction in beds has resulted in an increased number of deaths is difficult,” he said.

“I think it is worth considering and looking into in-depth because it’s such an important question.

“What I’m hearing from my psychiatry colleagues is that there is a major stress associated with the undersupply of acute public hospital psychiatry beds.”

Labor leader Rebecca White said she would support a coronial inquiry.

“We do have coroners’ reports linking deaths with the lack of beds. If the Government’s not going to take action a further coronial inquiry might prompt them to and we need that to happen,” she said.

Topics:

mental-health,

government-and-politics,

health,

tas,

hobart-7000



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