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Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2009 Jun;43(6):509-17. doi: 10.1080/00048670902873649.

Liaison psychiatry with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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NSW Institute of Psychiatry, NSW, Australia.



The aim of the present study was to describe the referral patterns, assessment and suggested management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples referred to an inner-city general hospital psychiatry service. The overarching goal was quality improvement.


Participants were identified from the consultation-liaison psychiatry database of all referrals to the service from the general hospital and Emergency Department. All people over 18 identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander seen during the period 1 July 2004-30 June 2007 were included. Information regarding referral and liaison patterns, suggested psychiatric management, disposition and follow up were gathered retrospectively from the medical records, with a particular focus on cultural references.


There were 162 referrals to the consultation-liaison psychiatry team of people identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. The rate of referral to consultation-liaison psychiatry was 3%. The Emergency Department had the highest rate of referral followed by Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The most common reason for referral was assessment of risk. The patient's Aboriginal ethnicity was mentioned in 52.5% of consultation-liaison assessments. An Aboriginal health worker was consulted in 48.1% of cases. The most common management approach involved pharmacotherapy. The consultation-liaison service instigated legal interventions in 25% of cases. Forty-five patients were referred for psychiatric admission following their assessment. Mental health follow up was arranged in 43.8% of cases.


The range of mental health problems referred and types of diagnoses made in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples reflect what has been previously reported, particularly in relation to comorbidity. Aboriginal ethnicity was variably identified and Aboriginal health workers, general practitioners and families were not routinely involved in consultation-liaison psychiatry assessments, highlighting an opportunity to improve communication and the quality of patient care.

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