ACT mental health sector should be referred to HRC for poor performance, says Dunne

Dominic Giannini 9 June 2020 13
Shadow Health Minister Vicki Dunne

Shadow Health Minister Vicki Dunne wants to refer the ACT’s mental health system to the Human Rights Commission. Photo: Region Media.

Canberra Liberals health spokesperson Vikki Dunne says the Territory’s mental health system should be referred to the ACT Human Rights Commission (HRC) to investigate serious failings and systemic issues within the sector.

In a motion moved in the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday (4 June), Ms Dunne said that The Canberra Hospital’s (TCH) adult mental health unit (AMHU) was operating at above capacity between 2017 and 2019 and that the funding of four additional beds in the ward is providing little relief to the capacity problem.

She said the ACT’s mental health system is increasingly struggling to cope with demand.

“Many patients reportedly leave the public mental health system worse off than when they went in. Our dedicated and hardworking mental health staff are being assaulted at record rates,” Mrs Dunne said.

“Out of concern for the wellbeing of both patients and mental health staff, it is very important that these ongoing issues are appropriately examined by the ACT HRC.”

Ms Dunne wants the HRC to compile a preliminary report into the system by the last sitting day in August and a final report by the end of the first sitting week in February 2021.

The motion is highly critical of Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury, noting that the average waiting time for the AMHU was longer than 16 hours, 140 per cent higher than the average of the previous five years.

Only 43 per cent of mental health presentations to the emergency department were seen on time in 2018-19, the lowest in Australia, Mrs Dunne said.

ACT Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury

ACT Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury says the Canberra Liberals need to take a holistic view of the mental health system in the Territory. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

However, Minister Rattenbury says there is no need for another review or report into the ACT’s mental health system, noting that there have been at least eight reviews undertaken or underway in the mental health portfolio since 2017.

Mr Rattenbury told the Assembly that despite an almost 140 per cent increase in mental health presentations to the emergency department at THC since 2014-15, there has been a 42 per cent reduction in waiting time for people with a mental illness. For presentations with serious mental illness, there has been a 37 per cent decrease, he said.

“I am concerned that Mrs Dunne has underpinned her entire motion on the mechanics of the AMHU,” Mr Rattenbury told the Assembly in response to Ms Dunne.

“I must remind Mrs Dunne and the Canberra Liberals that the AMHU is just one single component of the entire mental health system and focusing so directly on it would be doing a disservice to improving the broader mental health system.

“I by no means wish to stand here today and suggest everything is perfect, but I have been steadfast and determined to deliver on the promises of the Government to improve mental health services for Canberrans.”

Mr Rattenbury also previously told a parliamentary inquiry that Canberra was struggling from a shortage of psychiatrists and simply entering a bidding war to bring more into the ACT would not be sustainable.

Three patients with complex and severe mental illnesses had to be transferred interstate for specialist care that is not available in the ACT since April 2019. Two were referred by community teams and one from a hospital liaison team. This does not include people who may travel across the border for private mental health care.

A Territory-wide Mental Health Management Committee, established in May 2019, has also been tasked to obtain clearer data, establish shared training and education for staff, and identify infrastructure to support patient flow and need across the whole of the Territory, Mr Rattenbury said.

The Review of Children and Young People released this year by the ACT Office for Mental Health and Wellbeing found that half of the ACT’s young people and children say they have problems accessing mental health services and affording mental health services.

A second Headspace, targeting mental wellbeing in children and adolescents, was set to open in Canberra by the end of the year but may be delayed because of the pandemic.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health and needs help, please contact Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support service on 13 11 14.

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13 Responses to ACT mental health sector should be referred to HRC for poor performance, says Dunne
Cassandra Russell Cassandra Russell 6:40 pm 11 Jun 20

Our family experience with the sector is that unless your child has a single issue that fits neatly into one of the specialties, you get so far only to be told they can't help and there's no other avenue unless you head interstate using top level private health insurance.

    Janine Haskins Janine Haskins 5:39 pm 12 Jun 20

    Too true - typical services working in silos and no collaboration or information sharing.

Frances Carleton Frances Carleton 11:19 pm 10 Jun 20

How about using all the qualified and experienced counselling professional as well?

Psychologists aren’t the only ones that can help

Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 10:02 pm 10 Jun 20

I can’t help but feel a little uneasy about Rattenbury having the mental health portfolio.

Shezza Shells Shezza Shells 1:14 pm 10 Jun 20

Qld health pshyck wards are very unorganised and over staffed just not enough imput to discharge patients

Rauny Worm Rauny Worm 11:58 am 10 Jun 20

Very under resourced in the youth mental health area. Complete lack of psychiatrists...I could write a book of my recent adventures with an ill child.

    Cassandra Russell Cassandra Russell 4:14 pm 11 Jun 20

    Rauny Worm I relate to this strongly. The ACT offers very little real useful help. Kids who don't fit into a neat little box are given up on and left to head interstate for private help. Too bad for those that can't afford it.

Melanie Wisefisherman Melanie Wisefisherman 7:36 am 10 Jun 20

The sector is incredibly underfunded and under resources. There is a worldwide shortage of psychiatrists and Canberra has a real shortage of psychologists. GPs don’t have the time, Medicare funding or skills to manage people’s mental health adequately. In addition there is a terrible shortage of public mental health hospital beds both emergency, short stay and long stay. Exactly how much funding are the liberals offering to fix this urgent and growing problem?

Deref Deref 5:53 pm 09 Jun 20

I’d go along with that as long as they referred the LNP to them too.

Jane Sage Jane Sage 5:21 pm 09 Jun 20

Having a midwife refer you to a so called specialist perinatal mental health centre that you wait weeks to get into just to be referred to a GP for them to write a mental health plan so you can be referred to a psychologist is just crazy. As people suffering mental health issues wearen't crazy, the bloody system is designed to drive people nuts.

Sue Skinner Sue Skinner 3:10 pm 09 Jun 20

The sector is very dysfunctional. That's not the fault of workers. Yes let's look at the big picture: stop discharging people who are still unwell & at risk; fund mental health facilities for young people; fund salaries that reflect workers experience in the sector , not just their academic qualifications; fund salaries that attract quality staff; expand medicare subsidised psychology sessions from 10 to 20, 40.....

The NDIS is a cruel process for people with mental health issues: fund a return to community programs accessible to all, not just the lucky few with NDIS packages......I could go on....not even scratching the surface around attitudes of ndis staff towards those with psycho social issues etc etc etc.....yes definitely requires some deep scrutiny.

    Bruce Minter Bruce Minter 3:29 pm 09 Jun 20

    Sue Skinner I’m bipolar and the NDIS has been nothing but helpful and supportive.

Kim Kim 10:21 am 09 Jun 20

I would rather Shane Rattenbury in charge of Mental Health than Vicki Dunne. There is nothing in the story to say how the Canberra Liberals would tackle the challenges of mental health in the ACT. The list goes on – Public Transport, Health, infrastructure and Education. When are you journalists going to challenge the Liberals on their policies and what they will bring to the ACT after 20 years in opposition? Just the same old same old, nothing new from this socially conservative Liberal opposition, just more sniping from the sidelines without offering any policy alternatives.

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