Better care for mentally ill in the outback

The challenges of mental health service delivery in remote communities have prompted medical researchers to investigate the best way to safely sedate patients with severe behavioural disturbance for transport by air to hospital.

The Emergency Medicine Foundation (EMF) awarded a $60,000 grant for the research project, led by CareFlight senior flight nurse Jodie Mills.

Ms Mills said many patients suffering psychosis were airlifted by the Top End Medical Retrieval Service (TEMRS) every year, which is operated by CareFlight on behalf of the Northern Territory Government.

“Patients suffering psychosis are unpredictable and this can make air transport extremely dangerous for everyone on board,” she said.

Ms Mills said CareFlight had airlifted approximately 200 patients with mental health or other causes of acute severe behavioural disturbance per year, on average, since it began operating TEMRS in 2012, with the majority requiring some form of sedation.

Ms Mills’ research will examine two commonly used in-flight sedation methods that cause depression of consciousness and deep sedation, to determine which is the safest drug.

EMF Chair Associate Professor Sally McCarthy said there was a clear need for more research into improving mental health service access in rural and remote areas and EMF was proud to enable this important work.

“About 91 per cent of the nation’s psychiatrists work in cities, forcing rural patients to travel long distances or go without intensive mental health support,” said A/Prof McCarthy.[i]

“Very little literature exists about the aeromedical retrieval of this particular patient group, so this research will add to the knowledge base of the subject worldwide, not just here in Australia.”

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