NSW Branch welcomes Govt's announcement of $73m mental health support

24 April 2020

The NSW Branch of the RANZCP enthusiastically supports the suite of initiatives announced by the Premier.

Dr Angelo Virgona, Chair of the NSW Branch of the RANZCP said, ‘We’d just come out of the worst bushfires in living memory and now COVID-19 wreaking havoc on our health, livelihoods and way of life. We’re going to need a flexible and responsive mental health system, firing on all cylinders, 24/7, to help us get through these trying times. These initiatives hit the target.

'New community positions are welcomed. For years Governments have been advised of the need for enhanced face to face community mental health services. The 180 new positions, provided in response to the pandemic, are a start in addressing the historical shortfalls in such services.

'We are particularly pleased with the reinvigoration the NSW Mental Health Line. The 1800 number service was supposed to quickly respond to calls from consumers, carers, psychiatrists, GP’s and then efficiently link them to their local mental health service for intervention, depending on the severity and acuity of the condition. The line was meant to be staffed by mental health clinicians and operating 24/7 all over NSW.

‘Since it came into operation, the mental health line hasn’t been operating the way it was intended,’ said Dr Virgona.

‘Last year we asked our members to tell us their experience of it. The overwhelming response confirmed what we’d known for a long time: despite some districts offering well-functioning lines, much of the State was poorly served, not delivering the objectives and often answered by non-clinicians. Users could be on hold for hours, or not have calls answered or returned, or made to repeat information over and over. It created confusion, delays and put lives at risk.

‘We provided Minister Taylor with advice for an overhaul and upgrade of the mental health line and got a good hearing. Today’s announcement is great news indeed. We congratulate the Minister and Department for working in partnership with our professional body, whose members are at the coalface of service delivery. We want this excellent outcome to set the scene for future collaborative efforts.

We also welcome building on the excellent virtual mental health services offered from Orange to the people of Western NSW. This serves as a great model, to be rolled out for the benefit of other rural and remote services. Dr Virgona added, ‘Psychiatrists are expert in telehealth service provision and well-placed to plan and deliver such services.’  

The Safe Space sites innovation is needed. Anything that diverts distressed mentally ill people away from Emergency Departments to spaces more appropriate for a mental health assessment is worth trialing. Alternative to ED models, like that at Nepean Hospital, do work, and these ‘pop-ups’ could help re-shape acute mental health assessment services.

Young families with babies are finding the limited support caused by the pandemic’s  isolation measures really difficult. ‘The free access to the Tresillion services is a terrific move.

Overall, it is a timely and well-targeted response to the times, but Dr Virgona warned, 'The challenge as we move into the economically difficult years ahead is how to maintain and build on these initiatives. We know this funding stream is for 12 months, but the needs won’t stop there. It is up to the leadership in Local Health Districts, their mental health managers and clinicians to prove the value of these models, make them work, and then it’s up to the communities, the people of NSW, to demand of Government that they get continued funding.'

For more information and for all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.

ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call Sarah Carr on +61 437 315 911, or email media@ranzcp.org.