Full beds in Ballarat Health Services' adult acute mental health inpatient service is increasing pressure on the emergency department and leaving distressed patients in limbo.
Ballarat resident Jenny, who asked for her surname not to be revealed, said she was shocked and angry when she found out her sister remained waiting in the Ballarat Base Hospital emergency department on Wednesday after first presenting needing immediate help on Monday.
Jenny's sister Maureen has chronic mental disorder paranoid schizophrenia and presented to the emergency department on Monday evening after experiencing a severe episode.
Jenny said it wasn't until Wednesday that Maureen first saw a psychiatrist and was admitted to the adult acute mental health inpatient service.
While waiting in limbo for almost 48 hours between Monday evening and Wednesday afternoon, hospital staff repeatedly told Maureen and Jenny there were no adult acute mental health inpatient beds available.
Patients are looking for help, so are their families, and we are constantly feeling like we are banging our heads against a brick wall.Jenny
Jenny said hospital staff told her Maureen would be transferred to Shepparton Hospital where there was one bed available.
On Tuesday when Maureen and patient transfer staff were almost arriving at Shepparton they were told to turn around and return to Ballarat, as the bed in the acute mental health service was no longer available.
So Maureen spent her second night in the emergency department on Tuesday and continued waiting in uncertainty until she saw a psychiatrist and was transferred to a bed in the acute mental health inpatient service at the hospital on Wednesday.
"Doing what they did with her, stuffing her around like this; how good is that for a mentally ill patient?," Jenny said.
"Patients are looking for help, so are their families, and we are constantly feeling like we are banging our heads against a brick wall."
Jenny said Maureen's condition had worsened in the past six weeks - something she partly attributes to the lack of available services.
Six weeks ago Maureen stabbed a woman, hit a member of the public and smashed the windscreen of a car during an episode, according to Jenny.
Jenny said Maureen presented to the emergency department later that night but they were told Maureen could not be admitted to hospital because there were no beds available - so she was discharged.
"I just want the public to know what is going on in our system," Jenny said.
"We are still getting told there were no beds available. After what my sister has done in the last six weeks they are very lucky that she didn't go on a rampage in the hospital.
"The other thing that concerns me too is after I found out she was there and I wasn’t getting any answers from them, I phoned and asked for the head of psych services. I was told 'we have no one at the moment, the new person will start on Monday. Is your inquiry urgent and can it wait until Monday?."
Maureen is now admitted to the adult acute mental health inpatient service and is undergoing further assessments.
But Jenny said she continued wondering what will happen to her sister - staff told her Maureen could not stay in the acute unit for too long and that the usual stay was two weeks.
She said staff will assess whether Maureen meets criteria for Ballarat Health Services' extended care facility for people who have unremitting and severe symptoms of mental illness and associated behaviour disturbance.
"They are definitely feeling the pressure to free up beds," Jenny said.
"It goes by the hour for when beds may become available. My sister sat in emergency for 48 hours. It wasn't until I started jumping up and down that something happened.
"I am pleased she has been admitted, mainly for public safety."
Jenny said more beds must be made available for acute mental health patients and questioned why there were no beds available for Maureen in the state.
"My sister has a legitimate health issue - she was born with it. She is screaming out for help and can’t get it," she said.
The Courier asked Ballarat Health Services a series of questions relating to the hospital's adult acute mental health inpatient services, including whether all adult acute mental health inpatient beds were full and what happens to patients with severe mental health issues after having an episode if they could not be admitted to hospital.
A Ballarat Health Services media officer said 'as per hospital policy, we are unable to provide details on questions so closely linked to a specific patient case'.
The media officer referred to a statement from executive director acute operations Ben Kelly provided to The Courier on Thursday: "We occasionally experience days in our emergency department where we have an increase in demand. On these days we work across the whole of BHS to put in place systems and measures to cope with this demand.
"This includes assessing all available beds across our Base Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Centre and moving patients to the most appropriate spaces to receive care, which includes our mental health services and facilities."
A royal commission into mental health is expected to commence in March 2019.
Jenny said she would not be making a submission to the royal commission because she had made a formal complaint to the mental health commissioner in the past and 'got nowhere'.
"I have been there and it put my sister through hell. It hasn't done anything to help her this time has it?," Jenny said.
The royal commission into mental health is expected to cover prevention and early intervention, accessibility and navigation of the system, integration with alcohol and other drug services, and community, acute and forensic mental health.
"Every year, one in five Victorians experiences a mental illness and the truth is we can do more to improve the system," Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley said in December.
"This is our opportunity to find our what is working, what isn't and what we need to change."
If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636.