PARENTS will no longer have to be separated from their babies if they need to receive mental health treatment in hospital.
On Monday, Bendigo Health psychiatry services’ parent-infant unit will receive its first patients.
The five-bed unit - the first of its kind in regional Victoria - allows parents to have their babies stay with them while they are undergoing treatment.
Executive and clinical director of psychiatric services, Phillip Tune, said parents had previously had to travel to Melbourne to have their child stay with them, go into hospital without them, or simply struggle on at home.
Dr Tune said having to be admitted to hospital was already a stressful experience, which could be exacerbated when patients had to be separated from their baby and family.
The new unit also ensured parents could maintain their bond with their baby, he said, which was essential for the child’s healthy development.
The unit is expected to treat 35 to 40 patients in its first year.
Children up to one year of age will be able to stay in the unit with their parent.
Dr Tune said once children were independently mobile, it became too difficult to manage in such a setting.
Bendigo West MP Maree Edwards described the unit as a “calming and wonderful place for people to be treated”.
The hospital’s new adult and older persons units are already operating.
Recently released data suggests Bendigo has a high rate of hospitalisations for mental illness, but Dr Tune is confident the hospital will be able to meet demand.
He said the health service had been able to manage demand to this point, and the new hospital meant it would only be able to meet it better.
The new hospital’s psychiatry services has nearly doubled in capacity, from 42 to 80 beds.