New technology is needed to monitor mental health patients to reduce aggression and frustration, and improve staff safety.
That’s just one of the measures Shellharbour Hospital nurse Glenn Hayes would like to see introduced at mental health facilities in the region, and across the state.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association’s Illawarra mental health nurses branch president was one of several local delegates to this week attend the union’s annual conference, where mental health reform was firmly on the agenda.
‘’Mental health care has lagged behind other areas in terms of the technology that is in use,’’ Mr Hayes said.
‘’For instance there’s been advances in monitoring technology which could be used instead of the traditional observation practices.
‘’There’s different levels of observation – every 15 minutes, every 30 minutes, two-hourly or for acute cases there’s one-on-one observation. Nurses physically have to sight the person and record their respiratory rates. For many, particularly those who are paranoid or with mania, that can be detrimental to their recovery.
‘’Having a flashlight shone on you, or having your breathing monitored, at regular intervals is invasive, and might lead to aggression and frustration.’’
Mr Hayes said improved staff-to-patient ratios, and staffing mixes, would also enhance mental health services; as would changes to the physical environment.
‘’A lot of the wards are antiquated, and quite custodial in the way they appear to patients,’’ he said. ‘’The wards need to be more open and therapeutic – and less clinically designed.’’
NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes has called on Mental Health Minister Tanya Davies to trial new technology.
‘’Mental health is an area where, apart from CCTV, very little work has been done on the benefits of technology for patient observation,’’ he said.
‘’Millions of us wear technology to monitor our heart rates and activity, yet we are still waiting for a wearable monitor for mental health patients that might reduce stress and sleep disturbance during during 15-minute observations which are required around the clock.’’
Ms Davies said the NSW government actively supported local health districts to access programs focusing on safety and quality of care, the productive mental health ward program being just one of many examples.
‘’The challenges we are facing go beyond staffing numbers, we need to ensure training and skills reflect best practice models and address workplace culture,’’ she said.
‘’We are currently undertaking a review of seclusion, restraint and observation practices, to better understand how we can support frontline staff to reduce incidents across the mental health system.’’
Observation practices at Shellharbour Hospital’s mental health facilities came under scrutiny after the killing of one patient by another at the Eloura West unit in 2014. Meantime the NSW Coroner’s Court is reviewing the unexplained death of Nikola Nastovski at the Mirrabrook unit on May 4 this year.
Ms Davies said the 2017-18 state budget funded an additional 10 mental health clinical nurse educators to support new graduate and undergraduate nurses – on top of the 10 clinical nurse educators appointed last year.