Housing situation clogs psychiatric hospital

Last updated 15:31 12/08/2014

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Cantabrians needing mental health help may miss out because hospital beds are full with people avoiding homelessness, a Canterbury District Health Board representative says.

CDHB specialist mental health services manager Toni Gutschlag said the services were stretched to the limits in terms of capacity, with no signs of demand easing.

Before the earthquakes Gutschlag said housing had been a "relatively small", but manageable, problem.

Emergency housing was available for mental health patients, but if no suitable affordable housing was available for people to move on to it became blocked up.

Speaking to the Christchurch City Council's housing committee this afternoon, Gutschlag said patients who did not need to be in Hillmorton Hospital were staying there because of a lack of affordable housing options.

"There is a potential for people to not get access to the service they need because the beds are full with other people," she said. "We are probably close to our limit as to what we can absorb."

Out of 64 beds, five were occupied by homeless people ready to be discharged and another 15 were occupied by homeless people who were not yet ready to be discharged.

On their "worst day" the service had had 64 full beds, with 87 under care.

In that situation staff set up a couple of other rooms to keep from knowingly discharging people onto the streets.

"Our ability is being constrained by the housing system," Gutschlag said.

Since the earthquakes there had been increased demand for mental health services, particularly for children and adolescents.

The increase in this age group was because of an increase in adult stress, particularly because of relationship, housing and financial pressures.

She said the increased demand showed no signs of easing off. There had been an 30 per cent increase in adult outpatients, and a 15 per cent increase in inpatients.

Councillors agreed the council and CDHB staff should work together to help make it easier for mental health patients to apply for social housing.

A report on existing support services for mental health patients will be prepared for the committee's October meeting.

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