Treating acute mental illness in rural general hospitals: Necessity or choice?

Authors


Dr Catherine Hungerford, Hunter New England Mental Health Service, Tamworth Regional Office, Locked Bag 9783, Tamworth NEMSC, New South Wales, 2348, Australia. Email: catherine.hungerford@hneheath.nsw.gov.au

Abstract

Objective: To identify reasons why rural general practitioners (GPs) treat a large proportion of patients with a primary psychiatric diagnosis in general beds of their local hospitals, and the barriers encountered when providing this treatment.

Design: A postal questionnaire was developed and distributed to a sample of rural GPs, asking about the treatment of patients with an acute mental illness in their local hospital.

Results: The majority of GPs agreed that they treat the acutely mentally ill in general beds of their local hospital due to lack of availability of, and inability to gain access to, mental health beds in the larger centres; and also to enable ongoing family involvement and continuity of care. Distance factors were identified as least significant. Barriers to providing care to this group of patients included a perceived lack of support by consultant psychiatrists, confidentiality issues, lack of community mental health workers to provide assistance, aggression levels of patients, inappropriate local hospital setting, and lack of confidence of GPs and general hospital nursing staff.

Conclusion: Addressing these barriers is necessary if rural Australians are to receive a quality of care that is equal to that received by those located in metropolitan Australia. Continuing research in this area is crucial.

Ancillary