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St Helens Private Hospital - Effects of Closure

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 20 June 2023

Tags: Hospitals, Mental Health

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I rise today because today is the day that a 69-year-old woman contacted my office who has been a patient at St Helens for 19 years, one of thousands of people. Today was the last day she had an appointment there. I was contacted and told a little part of her story, which I want to share. She asked me to because she wants people to understand the individuals who are seriously impacted by the Government's failure to step in and take control of St Helens Private Hospital in its transition.

She has been seeing a psychiatrist for weekly or fortnightly appointments for complex PTSD that resulted from being attacked twice, once with a gun and, in another incident, with a knife. It manifested in her going mute for long periods or stammering and talking at length. She also has anxiety from that and an eating disorder. With appointments scheduled until next year, her last appointment was today. She said to me that she feels like she is being pushed out of a plane without a parachute. She spent three months as an inpatient previously and said that because the building is older and not like a hospital, it is why it works. 'St Helens', she said, 'is a lifeline. They are my lifeline.' This is the lifeline that the Premier has refused to repair.

It is broken. Whilst the Premier has been spending all of his time and energy and countless millions of dollars of state resources on getting a stadium bid together, he has lifted not one finger to sincerely make a strong effort to restore and maintain the services at St Helens.

For the thousands of people who are patients, she says she is very worried about the potential increase in suicides in Tasmania. It appears the Government does not care. 'Do they care?', she asked. 'They seem to care more about football.' We heard a testimony today from Mr Winter that a person who works at St Helens has informed him that two people who were patients at St Helens have taken their lives this week. This is an appalling situation. It is a preventable situation.

I thank the person who has been taking charge of the online petition with 7000 signatures so far, who has recorded the loss of the 31 mental health beds, the loss of the at least five mother and baby beds, the 10-day programs, the outpatient support, and the specialist alcohol and drug detox program; who has recorded the expert team of staff with seven psychiatric doctors, a professor of psychiatry, specialists, 97-strong staff of doctors, nurses, support staff and families, thousands of patients and a lifeline as well for Australian defence veterans, frontline emergency service workers such as nurses, ambulance officers, police officers and firefighters.

The Mother and Baby Unit, which I have mentioned, is for specialised care provided by family craft nurses who do not have anywhere else to go; they will probably all finish their careers at this point and there is no transition for those skills. The multidisciplinary teams of paediatricians, psychiatrists, nurses, midwives, psychologists, social workers, perinatal and postnatal services - it is a social cost which cannot be counted but it will be. The fear is strong and said by many people, reflected in negative mental health statistics and in the likely increase in suicides and visitations to the emergency department of a health system that is unable to cope today.

The damage that is occurring will be devastating. There are simply no alternative pathways available. The Hobart Private Hospital's waiting list is so maxxed out that I was told they no longer answer the phone. There is an automated machine for the thousands of people who are desperately trying to scrabble together some other psychiatric support, some replacement which cannot be a replacement for the long-term recovery groups.

It is unbelievable that we have a premier and a government that can allow an essential hospital like St Helens to close. It is staggering. It should not be possible. How can you let this go? This is the core role of government: to step in for these people, to step in for the woman who is now 35 who has been going there since she was 16, when she was first admitted. It is the only place she has ever known for her whole life to get support. She has gone for years, for medication changes. It has kept her through depressive and suicidal episodes. She had treatment-resistant depression and she is now being treated with transcranial magnetic stimulation, which can only be available there in the quantity of patients who have been accessing it. The six machines there can only be used at St Helens because there are no other beds to provide other than the 31 beds for mental health patients where TMS is being provided every single day, where people would stay up to three or four nights. This woman would go every two months. It would keep people's lives on course. It would stop people from going into dark places and stop suicidal ideation.

This woman, who has now turned 35, has been an inpatient for 19 years at St Helens. She said it has helped her through her darkest times and she would be lost without St Helens. She said, 'Please do not forget us'. I have a commitment: we will not forget the people at St Helens and we will fight for them. The Government can do better and the minister still has time to intervene.