MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Motion Accorded Priority
Ms LYLEA McMAHON
(Shellharbour—Parliamentary Secretary) [3.34 p.m.]: I move:
(1) welcomes the New South Wales Government's investment in mental health jobs to provide mental health care services to New South Wales;
(2) notes that the New South Wales Government has employed an additional 1,107 mental health staff during the last five years, an increase in the mental health workforce of almost 20 per cent; and
(3) calls on the Opposition to get behind the New South Wales Government's initiatives to provide mental health care jobs.
This Government is determined to improve access to mental health services for patients and their families. It is improving the effectiveness of community care, providing more mental health beds, improving services for young patients and the elderly, and placing a strong focus on building the mental health workforce. I am proud to say that over recent years this Government has put mental health fairly and squarely back on the national agenda and the Government's record $1.09 billion budget is helping to deliver a first-class mental health system across New South Wales. The Government is also building a skilled mental health workforce that is helping to deliver these important services. That workforce is helping some of the most vulnerable members of our community in their times of greatest need. From an acute phase of their illness, through to rehabilitation and ongoing help through community-based care, the Government is investing in services to help them get back on track to manage their illness and lead very fulfilling and productive lives.
Despite the current financial crisis we face as a global community, the expansion and retention of the mental health workforce remains a top priority of the Government. The Government's investment in mental health has seen the mental health workforce increase by 20 per cent, or an additional 1,107 workers, bringing the total number of mental health workers to 6,800. This is a great achievement, especially in view of the recognised national shortage of mental health staff. With more services being developed across the State there is more opportunity to draw mental health workers back to the public health sector.
In my electorate of Shellharbour the new $6.65 million 20-bed mental health rehabilitation unit and the $1.32 million child and adolescent day unit delivered by this Government are staffed by 38 full-time equivalent positions. Both of those services have only recently been opened. In fact, four state-of-the-art services have opened in my local area health service this year, and a six-bed $6.65 million child and adolescent mental health inpatient unit is planned for Shellharbour Hospital. That unit will provide a purpose-built facility to cater for the needs of adolescent mental health patients in the Illawarra by improving assessment, stabilisation and short-term treatment, and will provide a place where young people can be cared for by an inpatient service in their community with family support. I am pleased to advise the House that my local area health service has just received Government approval to commence the next phase of planning—the detailed design phase—which will commence this month. This is going to provide even more specialist mental health care to the region.
Members on the other side should be backing these initiatives and should get behind the Government by acknowledging its tremendous achievements in the area of mental health. The Opposition should support mental health staff for the wonderful job they do in our community, but the Opposition is sadly lacking in the policy department. In fact, the people of New South Wales have not been offered any alternate policy ideas since before the last election. That says a lot about the commitment of the Opposition to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. But I guess that is the difference between the Opposition and the Government.
As my colleague mentioned in Question Time today, the key to maintaining a skilled workforce lies not just in recruitment but also in providing the appropriate support, mentoring and training to improve skills and retain the best mental health workforce. Since 2006 more than 700 nursing scholarships have been provided to build the skills of our workforce and to provide opportunities for career advancement. Mental health workers join the health system because they know they will work in first-class facilities. In the electorate of Shellharbour that is certainly true. The recently opened facilities, including a child and adolescent day unit and 20-bed rehabilitation unit, are world class.
Mental health workers will be supported to develop their skills, and this is not limited to those working in our busy hospitals. The Rees Government has invested heavily in the community mental health sector. After providing $1.6 million in infrastructure grants to build the capacity of mental health non-government organisations to deliver services to the community we are now supporting them with 465 scholarships valued at more than $1.5 million. These scholarships will help staff with the skills to provide the best possible care to people living with a mental illness.
The Government is determined to expand community-based care. In fact, 82 per cent of new funds in the mental health budget have been dedicated to community-based care. Hearing the personal stories of the people who use these services and their families, one develops a newfound appreciation of the vital role these services and the staff members play in the care and wellbeing of people in our community. The Government is maintaining a world-class standard of mental health services across New South Wales and investing in a strong and highly skilled workforce. I call upon the Opposition to support today's motion, which places an emphasis on mental health and the important role it plays in our community.
Mr KEVIN HUMPHRIES
(Barwon) [3.41 p.m.]: It gives me great pleasure to respond on behalf of the Opposition, particularly on the important issue of mental health. I believed we had a bipartisan position on mental health. But a junior backbencher, not the Minister, has led this important debate. The member for Shellharbour politicised the issue right from her opening remarks. The Government says that it is committed to mental health service delivery. The Opposition has heard overwhelmingly from the community—industry, workers, carers, clients and patients—that that is not the case. We would welcome any developments in mental health such as capital infrastructure. It is an indictment of the Government that it has taken a decade to commit to projects announced today. It is another example that the Government is not listening. I move:
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after "That" with a view to inserting instead:
(1) welcomes the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Coalition support for inclusive mental health service delivery;
(2) condemns the New South Wales Government's failure in delivering effective mental health services for patients, clients, families and the community; and
(3) calls for an inquiry into deaths related to inadequate mental health service delivery in New South Wales.
It is interesting that the Government has moved this motion. I suspect it is as a result of inquiries I have made to the Minister's office. Indeed, today I made a request to make a visit in two weeks to Macquarie Hospital, a large acute mental health bed unit in Sydney. I have put questions on notice about area health services throughout New South Wales and asked the Government to explain the number of deaths in mental health facilities of both voluntary and involuntary patients and to examine the issue of overmedication, which sometimes manifests in a syndrome known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome. People come to my office on a daily basis to speak to me as the shadow Minister. They are concerned that the service delivery by the Government is inadequate and they want improved services.
I will continue to meet with the non-government organisations. There are only three community-based facilities run by non-government organisations across the State. I was in Balgowlah two weeks ago visiting Pioneer House, which is a clubhouse model. I visited Tamworth last week and I will visit Wagga Wagga in two weeks. These non-government organisations try to work with the area health service teams. The community is crying out for the Government to address the huge gap—not hole—in services once people who experience mental health difficulties leave our acute system. There is no step up or step down program in New South Wales as there are in other States. There is no filtering up or filtering down of any consequence of mental health patients who require significant assistance or need transitioning back into the community.
This State has a fractured health system. That is manifest by the inadequate funding and coordination of our mental health system. More than $13.5 billion is provided for health in this budget, which we know is not sustainable in the long-term, and well over $1 billion is spent on mental health services. It is difficult to obtain the figures from the Government. I would say openly and confidently that the Government does not even know what it is spending on mental health service delivery. The state of health under the Rees Labor Government is so dysfunctional that hospitals cannot pay their bills or manage their budgets. I suspect strongly, as does the industry, that the black hole in mental health funding has got bigger because money that is dedicated to mental health is being used to fill the black hole in acute health services in this State. The Minister did not speak to this motion. The Government is being disingenuous. The Government says that it is making a commitment and listening to the community but that is clearly not the case.
The Opposition always welcomes jobs in mental health and in any part of the community. We need a functioning bureaucracy, a functioning system. But in health everywhere I go there is a jobs freeze. The positions counted by the Government, particularly in health, are not being filled on the ground. I have met with the New South Wales Nurses Association on a number of sites and they have been very critical of the Government for not proactively advertising positions. When the Government says it is putting another 1,000 jobs into the system the community does not believe it because it cannot be seen on the ground. We know there is a jobs freeze. The Government has been making positions redundant for years. The Government is being disingenuous to expect trust from the community on this important issue.
A very important paper was produced last year called the "Future of Community Health Services in Australia". This benchmark paper articulates findings across Australia, including, poignantly, in New South Wales. One of the concerns noted in the paper, which is the benchmark in the industry, is the treatment of people when they are discharged from a mental health facility. That is the area where there are gaps. The Opposition is listening to the industry. As the Government knows, we are convening a roundtable of industry heads. We have met with them already and we will bring them together on a regular basis to help redefine our policy. We do not listen to backbenchers; we listen to industry, carers, patients and the experts in the field. Mental health is a serious issue and the community deserves better.
Ms MARIE ANDREWS
(Gosford) [3.48 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the member for Shellharbour. I will paint a vastly different picture of mental health services from the one painted by the member for Barwon. The delivery of more jobs in the mental health sector by the Government works to assist some of the most vulnerable members of our community. As members will be aware, Gosford is a vibrant and growing area. The Government's decision to focus strongly on youth mental health services in Gosford has not only helped provide new jobs but, importantly, has also delivered quality age-appropriate mental health care for the region's young people. The opening of YCentral has provided an essential health hub for young people in Gosford—a one-stop shop where they can seek treatment for their illness in a comfortable and relaxed environment.
We are doing more than just delivering bare health outcomes to young people and others living with a mental illness. The Government is constantly looking at ways in which people with a mental illness can lead productive lives and contribute to their community. The Government is not only boosting jobs for mental health workers; it is also helping people living with mental illness to re-enter the workforce through the Vocational Education, Training and Employment Service. This service provides vocational education, training and employment services to people living with mental illness and it has been successfully implemented in my local area health service. I am pleased to see that the Minister for Education and Training is in the Chamber.
Since the inception of the service more than 713 placements have been provided in the Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service. Of those involved more than 72 per cent have recorded a positive outcome following the completion of their course. This is an outstanding initiative and is a hallmark of this Government's approach to mental health care. The Government is committed to ensuring that people living with mental illness are not nameless and faceless but instead are contributing and involved members of our community.
The Government's commitment to mental health care will continue this year with the ongoing development of the new mental health unit at Gosford Hospital. This new unit will deliver 30 new beds across a range of mental health services. The unit will include six observation beds, four vulnerable persons beds and 20 general acute beds. The Rees Government invested an additional $4.7 million in the 2009-10 budget, and construction is well underway. This builds on the already expanded services on the Central Coast, which in the past five years have seen the number of mental health beds in the region more than triple from 25 to 80—a great improvement for the local community. These investments drive jobs growth and help to deliver real outcomes for people living with a mental illness, their families and carers. I commend the motion to the House.
Mrs JUDY HOPWOOD
(Hornsby) [3.51 p.m.]: I support the motion by the shadow Minister for healthier lifestyles. This Government has been found wanting in the provision of services for people with a mental illness. I begin my argument by quoting from a July 2007 report entitled "Obstacles to Australian Health Reform" by John Menadue. The report concludes:
we have a sickness model, not a wellness model, that the system is provider-driven, not client or community driven, that politicians only respond to vested professional interests, so we don't properly fund the Australian communities' priorities: mental health, indigenous health and physical risk factor prevention
That typifies the way in which this Government has overseen the management of mental illness in this State. It is an absolute disgrace. In the Hornsby electorate more than $7 million was spent on the mental health intensive care unit. The unit was opened in March 2007 and it was empty for 11 months. It is closed again now because, I am advised, two patients have damaged its windows and doors. It is therefore not providing 12 essential beds for mental health patients. A relative of a mentally ill person came into my office recently and told me that his brother, who has bipolar disorder, had been in a manic phase but had not been admitted into the facility at Hornsby. His brother had been prescribed medication and sent away when he desperately needed to have that admission. The non-government organisations are picking up the bill for the mental health area, and they are doing a fantastic job, but they are under stress and strain.
I raise issues relating to homelessness. A good percentage of homeless people have a mental illness and I see on a first-hand basis many examples of the State Government not having adequately met the needs of homeless people with a mental illness—or the needs of people with a mental illness across the board. I remind the Government of the situation in the Shoalhaven area. For the past five to six years there have been promises with the area health clinical services plan that was endorsed by the then chief executive officer, Deb Piccone, who is now our Director General of Health. It is an absolute disgrace that those 12 to 15 mental health beds have not been opened in the area and that there are no mental health beds from Wollongong to the New South Wales border.
Mr ALLAN SHEARAN
(Londonderry) [3.54 p.m.]: I support the motion and welcome the Government's investment in the size and skill level of the State's mental health workforce. The hardworking frontline healthcare workers deserve our praise and appreciation, especially the dedicated people who care for the health of people with a mental illness. Increasing the number of mental health workers and investing in their ongoing training is one of the most effective ways to improve mental health across New South Wales. I am pleased and proud to note that over the past few years the Government has already been responsible for a massive increase in mental health staff. An increase of more than 1,100 mental health staff added to the workforce since 2003-04 is a great achievement. I doubt that any other State in the nation can boast that kind of increase, and it has come about because of the leadership of this Government in addressing mental illness in our society.
Encouragingly, efforts to destigmatise mental illness have resulted also in an increased willingness of sufferers of mental illness to receive treatment. This focus on the mental health workforce continues. We recognise that attracting people to this sector of the healthcare workforce is very important. I am pleased that today the Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Mental Health) announced a brand new scholarship program in conjunction with the Mental Health Coordinating Council of New South Wales. The scholarship program includes $1.56 million for career development opportunities in non-government organisations. This means that community-based mental healthcare workers are provided with additional professional training, making the jobs more attractive to recent graduates and improving the skill set of existing community workers.
Since 2004 more than $24 million has been devoted to boosting inpatient and community mental health services. It is noteworthy to my constituents that western Sydney has been the particular focus of some of these resources. We now have more than 900 mental health beds across western Sydney. It is clear that the Government is serious about mental health and serious about mental health staff. The Walker Adolescent Unit at the Concord Centre for Mental Health is scheduled to open this month. I would love to draw a contrast between these achievements for the benefit of the people of New South Wales and the disappointing policy proposals of the Opposition, but the sad fact is that the Opposition is almost silent on its mental health policies.
Mental health ought to be one area that has bipartisan support. That is why the Government is investing so heavily in the mental health workforce and providing the kind of mental healthcare that New South Wales residents deserve. It would be good, responsible and appropriate if the Opposition got behind the Government's commendable initiatives to support the mental health workforce. People with a mental illness, and their families and friends, deserve the best possible care and treatment, and the Government has them firmly in mind. They are among the most disadvantaged members of our community and the Labor Government is dedicated to meeting their healthcare needs.
Ms LYLEA McMAHON
(Shellharbour—Parliamentary Secretary) [3.57 p.m.], in reply: I will address some of the issues that have been raised by members in this debate. The member for Barwon discussed the politicisation of the issue of mental health. I draw attention to the amendment. If anyone is politicising this debate it is the Opposition. The Government supports action rather than words, it supports investment rather than nothing and it supports jobs rather than cuts. Every member on this side of the House supports this issue and is capable of contributing to this important debate dealing with people in our community who need assistance in their most vulnerable hours. Every member on this side is capable of contributing; we do not leave it to one member to speak. In addition, rather than talking, we are acting.
The member for Hornsby said that there are no services from Wollongong to the Victorian border. That is not true. Shellharbour Hospital has significant facilities for those with a mental illness. Other facilities have also been opened recently, including a 20-bed rehabilitation unit and a child and adolescent day unit staffed by 38 people. That is 38 new jobs. The member for Gosford made a valid point about the New South Wales Labor Government's support not only for mental health services but also for those with a mental illness, and particularly in ensuring that they are supported in living a full and rewarding life. The member brought to the attention of the House the vocational education and training courses from which 75 per cent of the participants go on to other activities. This Government does not simply talk about nameless, faceless people. It is concerned about those who have a mental illness and provides the services and support that they need. We have put our money where our mouth is by spending $1.09 billion in this area.
Question—That the words stand—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Ms Alison Megarrity):
Order! Debate on the motion accorded priority having concluded, the House will now proceed to General Business Orders of the Day (for Bills).