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Estimates Reply - Minister Ferguson

12 June 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF - Chair, I will reflect on some of the enlightening conversations I had with the minister in his capacity as the Minister for Health. We have touched on so many of these over the last few days but I cannot walk away from continuing the conversation that started in parliament two weeks ago when the Budget was delivered and continued last week in my questions to the minister about the child and adolescent mental health unit, so-called dedicated unit, and which we have continued conversations about in parliament this week.

What I managed to establish in my questions to the minister and through the minister to Dr Aaron Groves, the Chief Psychiatrist, is that what has been called a dedicated child and adolescent mental health unit by the minister in parliament appears in the budget papers as a 'child and adolescent ward'. It was apparent from the responses of Dr Groves, when reading into the comments he made, that a lot of loose language is being used about that ward. When I asked whether a ward for children and adolescents with mental health issues would always be staffed by medical health clinical specialists at every time of the day or night, every day of the week, Dr Grove's response was -

My understanding is that is the model of care that the Government and I would like to see in place. At the moment, the current model of care was forwarded to me last week and I provided some information to them about the model of care. There are areas where they need to improve on that. However, to give you as much information as I can in answer to the question, the 16-bed adolescent unit is an adolescent inpatient unit. It will include both people who have mental health issues or emotional disturbance and adolescents who do not. Not all 16 beds are for mental health.

Can we finish there, Chair? Dr Aaron Groves is a man who has spent a lot of time working very hard in the area of mental health and should not, in any way, professionally or otherwise, be dragged into what has become a political stunt conducted by the minister in pretending that the 16 beds are dedicated, full-time and available 24-hours a day, seven days a week with clinical specialists at the site as required for children and adolescents in acute mental health distress, period; no-one else.

I am not the person with expertise to say there should be 16 beds for that service. I am saying what the sector, the parents of children in mental health distress, what Coroner McTaggart put forward in her coronial inquest recommendations in 2015, are saying, which is that this needs to be a dedicated unit that does not have other people coming and going, who might be having an appendix out and happen to be under the age of 18, or who might have broken their leg and who happen to be under the age of 18, or who might have had a car crash and be under the age of 18. Those people need support and they need acute care but they should not be in the same place as a child or an adolescent in acute mental health distress. The evidence shows that the best way of supporting those children and adolescents in that situation is to have multi-disciplinary teams in an environment specifically created to be different and does not provide the kind of sterile environment appropriate and required for infections or other issues of young patients who may need a hospital bed.

There are so many reasons why it needs to be dedicated; specifically and exclusively focused on that issue. Since last week's Estimates, the minister is continuing to perpetuate falsehood after falsehood about this ward. It is a ridiculous situation. We need to understand that regardless of whether it is 16 beds or eight beds, the minister continues to perpetuate untruths by saying it will be a dedicated facility for that purpose. It is clearly not true and is an indication of a failure to be honest about basic stuff, which leaks into other areas of management.

I will move to the issue of smoke that people were so afflicted by in the Huon Valley, central Tasmania and the north-west as a result of the bushfires. Poor air quality measurements made for the Huon Valley region, particularly Cygnet, were some of the highest ever recorded in Tasmania and some of the highest in the world. It took a long time for the Health department to come on board and make active public health announcements as opposed to general public health announcements for those residents. My question for the minister was whether a review of the timeliness and appropriateness of communication with residents would be undertaken. There is much discussion about whether people should be encouraged to leave, or what response they should take to protect themselves. It is clear that some review is necessary and should be broader than the internal review. Through the minister, Dr Veitch made no commitment to a review and that is a huge missed opportunity because there is so much learning to be undertaken with residents, Huon Valley Council, the SES and TFS, who were all involved, about how we can do things better next time. I will continue to pursue this issue. People are very concerned about it.

I thank the minister for his responses to my questions during Estimates. They did appear. The department provided those responses and they have been tabled. It is gratifying to see the numbers of SES and TFS volunteers seem to have been going up over the last three years, across all age groups across Tasmania, so that is good news.

In the Police portfolio, in terms of crimes the police are required to administer I would like to draw the minister's attention to his October 2017 press release in which he made a commitment to reviewing the current offence of begging and the imposition in the Police Offences Act 1935. He committed to reporting back to parliament in the first half of 2019. That would be tomorrow, so we look forward to the minister's response to the crime of begging because the Government voted against the Greens begging bill last year. I look forward to it.