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Mental Health Funding

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Tags: Health, Mental Health, Royal Hobart Hospital, Preventative Health, Ambulances

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, although this MPI was listed as health, this has moved into a discussion about mental health. We can all accept that one of the key aspects of concern that has been raised about the situation for people accessing Royal Hobart Hospital emergency department is people in acute mental health distress who have been left waiting at different times throughout the last year for hours and often days. There have been documented occasions where people in severe distress have been forced to wait in the emergency department for numbers of days.

Ms White - Six.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, six days - thank you, Ms White. Earlier this year, people were repeatedly having to wait for that time. We clearly have situation where the system is utterly broken for the people who are most vulnerable and who most need it. This has had a terrible impact on the staff who have had to experience the vicarious trauma of working in an emergency department where day on day they can see the ambulances ramped up outside. They are aware of the frustration and concern of the ambulance drivers, the real distress of nurses and clinicians, who are looking at the massive queue of people and who do not have the appropriate facilities to care for people. These are people who are trained to care. They are highly expert and they are ready to do their job. It is incredibly distressing for them and most distressing for the patients and their families waiting in the emergency department.

It is incredibly important that we do not only look at the acute hospital environment; that is one component. The biggest component is the real failure of this Liberal Government over the last four-and-a-half years to put money into preventive health. It is because of that failure and the $210 million cut that went out of the Health budget in 2014 that all of the critical support services and community services that were doing the work in the community - to remind people to go to their checks for different chronic diseases for prevention, to support people who needed that extra little bit of help, to be there for people in mental health distress, to provide care for the carers, to provide respite service - have been cut to the bone or dismissed and unfunded altogether.

We have a skeleton of hardworking, dedicated people in the community who, for want of a tiny bit of money from this Liberal Government, have been kept with the barest minimum staff. I speak to people like this all the time. I go out into the community. I went to Huonville a couple of weeks ago. The Huon Valley Council ran a Health and Wellbeing Day and it was amazing. It was packed. The Town Hall, outside the Town Hall, and the library were packed full of services doing such hard work. I thought I would be there for an hour-and-a-half, I could not get out in three hours and I could have stayed the day talking to people.

The experiences of people from organisations like Grow, Flourish, Move Well Eat Well, Stronger Together, the Men's Shed, Suicide Support, mental health carers, Lifeline, Colony 47, Link Youth Health Service and headspace - they are only some of the organisations I had a chance to connect with, going from table to table. Each of those groups has been starved of the money they need to keep staff going at a bare skeleton level relative to the demand, relative to the need.

While we focus on the hospital system we are taking our focus away from the preventive health and community system. We have to do both. I am disappointed in Ms White for her leadership on preventive health. We all need to be pushing hard on Mr Ferguson, the Minister for Health, to remember his duty to his Health portfolio. If he takes it seriously, if he is an intelligent person, he will understand the evidence; you cannot put money into the acute sector and expect to see any dent in the number of people who are coming to our hospital systems if you are also not putting money into preventive health.

While the minister may be gaining some traction in the area of mental health he has absolutely dropped the ball on preventive health generally. The 'best health in Australia' by 2025 aim has gone by the wayside but that is the thinking we need right now. That is the sort of leadership we need for the next three-and-a-half years in this term of Government. Mr Ferguson should be opening himself to taking up that baton because the Mental Health Council implored governments to commit to developing seamless mental health services and to publicly commit to working toward preventive health and early intervention in their public statement the week before last. It is not enough to publicly commit without the money behind it. I look forward to the announcement today and I hope it is a serious injection of money into solving the issue in the acute health sector and into the community services.

Mental health carers, for example, did not see any budget increase last year, yet all the patients that end up in psychosis at the emergency department might be there for five hours or three days and then they will go home. When they go home they will be in the house with their parents, their in-laws or by themselves every other day. It is the every other day, if they do not have some support, some respite for their carer, they will bounce straight back into the emergency department - the worst possible place for a sick person. We need that support for the carers who are doing the work in the community every day.