You are here

Mental Health

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Tags: Mental Health, Health Crisis

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, the AMA [Public Hospital] Mental Health Report Card released yesterday was shocking. It took me completely by surprise. We have all heard the stories. We heard the story of the person who had to wait for 28 hours to be seen in an emergency department when they were in acute psychiatric distress. It is hard to imagine what that would be like: waiting 28 hours in a place with other people coming and going, coughing, in plastic chairs or even not plastic chairs. It is a public space. It is completely inappropriate that a person who is that desperate, who has exhausted all other avenues for health care, would be in that situation and have to wait so long to be admitted.

The conclusion of the AMA's national report card, which provides data about Tasmania, is overwhelming for the whole country. Severely ill patients are attending emergency departments after they have exhausted all other avenues for help. It is not because they cannot be bothered trying to find somewhere else to go. It is not because they have not tried. It is because of a failure of primary health and community healthcare options.

I recognise that the minister for Mental Health, Premier Jeremy Rockliff, has had very good intentions about transitioning to a focus on community health and primary health care and support for people in mental health distress. We support that direction instead of people ending up in a desperate situation needing to have hospital care, which should only be for a tiny proportion of people. The Mental Health Council has spoken on behalf of the mental health community organisations across Tasmania. Over the last four years or more there has been great work towards this and they have been clear that this is what the community and mental health services want.

The problem is that although the Premier has talked about some of the investments that have been made, they are far too small. We have this enormous gap, which the Liberals knew when they came to government. It was sitting there, according to the AMA's data, for 20 years before they came to government.

There has been a decline year on year in the number of mental health beds in medical institutions available to people in psychiatric distress. The number of beds has fallen off a cliff in Tasmania by head of population, from 1993 of 251 to just 103 beds available to people in a hospital or in a mental health service when they are in acute distress. What we have is more than half, two-thirds actually, of the number of beds available but it has not been matched by the transition to community services.

Tasmania's AMA president, Dr John Saul, makes that comment clearly. There has not been the investment in community health. There has not been the investment in primary health care support by the state Government for GPs. Of course, we understand it is primarily a failure of successive federal Labor and Liberal governments in serially under funding Medicare. However, the state Government has a responsibility and must work with the GPs to patch that care.

The Premier was at the AMA dinner a couple of weeks ago in Parliament House. I spoke to the GPs who attended. They want to have a conversation, to have a group of GPs to be able to have support, because they are completely maxed out with the level of need. To find the complex care support they need, they need mentoring support and help from the THS to help them provide professional mentoring to oversee their work as GPs dealing with the most complex cases. What happens is that they send people to psychiatrists and they get bounced back when their complex needs mean that that specialist is not interested in dealing with the whole patient. What we have is a devastating failure.

The Premier has decided to secure $500 million in investment for an unnecessary mega stadium, when we have two perfectly good stadiums in Tasmania, over putting that into community mental health facilities. He is choosing to direct the resources of this Government away from people in mental health distress and lacking social housing, and put it into a stadium that is not needed and not wanted by the people in most distress in Tasmania. That is a decision that this Premier, Minister for Mental Health and Wellbing, is choosing to make. If there is half-a-billion dollars of resources, why not direct them where they are most needed? We could make an argument for lots of things but, first and foremost, we have to look at the most vulnerable people. They are the people we are responsible for.

Although the direction and the intention are there, it is clear that the reason we have this devastating gap is because of the paltry investment that has occurred to date. That has meant it has not been supercharged. We could have done this eight years ago if there really was a commitment to make a change to the system. Rather than just talk and have committees and have planning, we could have supercharged that. There is still time for the Premier to make that decision to supercharge it immediately.