The emergency crisis for the mentally ill

A conversation with an emergency department administrator

Me: Hi my name’s Laura,

Administrator: I know who you are

Me: okay…I came in via ambulance and have been told that I would be seen in an hour to have my arm stitched up. I’m on the fast tracked list. I have been waiting for 3.5 hours. My arm is still bleeding and I haven’t had any painkillers. (My wound was 5cm open). How long will I have to wait?

Administrator: As you can see it’s crazy in here. People are coming in constantly and not being seen. You need to wait until the psych team can see you and then we will stitch your arm.

Me: I have been waiting over three hours, and I was told I’d be seen under an hour. Can I have my arm stitched then wait for the psych?

Administrator: No because you will leave and not wait. We want you to see the psych first.

Unless you are having a heart attack and dying before me you won’t be seen.

There are more important people that need to be seen before you. I can not tell you how long you will be waiting.

Me: (I have to admit I was pretty annoyed at this point)

Well then don’t tell people they will only be waiting an hour, my arm’s bleeding and I haven’t been given any pain relief.

After this my husband was so annoyed we left the hospital. The administrator saw me walk straight out knowing my arm was not going to heal without being sutured.

We went to another hospital where I was seen immediately and my arm was stitched within an hour. This was a private hospital and I paid an excess. How blessed I am to have private health insurance. Not many people with BPD would have this luxury.

We should not be telling patients you are less important than another human.

I also understand that this administrator, who was a health professional, has bigger pressures and demands that would be influencing her responses.

What do we do?


How many people would leave the hospital without having any medical


How can we talk to people in distress with more sensitivity?

How can we rephrase this conversation without angering a patient so they don’t leave

Further reading

Emergency departments in ‘crisis’ as mental health patients left waiting: new report


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