Select Committee members with local MP Deb Frecklington … from left, Member for Pumicestone Ali King (ALP), Member for Macalister Melissa McMahon (ALP), Member for Southport Rob Mulhoek (LNP), Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington (LNP), Member for Moggill Christian Rowan (LNP), Member for Whitsunday Amanda Camm (LNP) and Member for South Brisbane Amy McMahon (Qld Greens)

June 23, 2022

Hopes that mental health services in the South Burnett could improve have been raised with news that work has begun on establishing the $3.4 million “Head to Health” adult mental health service promised for Kingaroy.

A spokesperson for the Darling Downs and West Moreton PHN said the service, promised by the Federal Government ahead of the recent election, would include a “bricks and mortar” satellite service centre as well as a telephone service.

“Arrangements for the phone service are currently under way with a launch expected for July,” the spokesperson said.

“The full Head to Health satellite service centre is forecast to be operational by mid-2023.”

The spokesperson said the PHN was committed to building on existing connections in the Kingaroy region to “co-design a service that truly meets the needs of the local community”.

This process would begin next month and include a variety of local community and other stakeholders.

“To express interest in participating, please contact info@ddwmphn.com.au,” the spokesperson said.

This week, the State Government also promised improvements in mental health services across Queensland, with a $1.645 billion allocation in the State Budget to be spent over five years, with funds to be raised via a payroll levy.

The five-year plan has been dubbed “Better Care Together” and will be accompanied by the commissioning of a new QAS Mental Health Co-Responder service for the Darling Downs.

* * *

Improvements in local mental health services cannot come quick enough if evidence given at a Select Committee Hearing in Kingaroy earlier this year is any example.

The visit by State Government MPs to the South Burnett heard horror stories about interactions with various health services (see transcript below).

An example presented by a youth support worker detailed the case of a young woman living in a homeless shelter who began to show signs of a drug-induced psychosis, similar to previous episodes she had suffered.

The girl was admitted to Kingaroy Hospital at night but hospital staff sought to discharge her at 3:00am, before she had been seen by a mental health professional.

“I was really trying to to advocate for them to stay in and be looked after and seen in the morning by a mental health professional … They brought her to me in a wheelchair limp and unresponsive, having taken her out of one of the beds to see if I could get her to respond to me and agree to go,” the worker told the MPs.

He said the patient was slumped forward in the chair and not responding.

“They then started telling me this was behavioural and that (she) did not want to leave. They asked me to get my car and bring it around to the side so they could wheel her out to the car and I could lift her in … and take her back to the hostel.

“I asked them what they would have me do if I was crazy enough to do it and they said: ‘She’ll have two options: she’ll either stay in the car and she’ll get cold enough and she’ll eventually stop this behaviour and get out and come inside; or you just leave her in the car.'”

“Obviously I refused.”

The patient was discharged by the hospital the next day: “We were told they were fine.”

southburnett.com.au put this example to Darling Downs Health and received the following response:

“Darling Downs Health offers emergency support for mental health, complementary to the primary mental health services based in the community.

“The Kingaroy Hospital has four dedicated mental health treatment spaces for assessing patients with two rooms specifically designed to be as safe as possible for patients receiving mental health care.

“Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Service (MHAODS) community mental health staff are also based at the Kingaroy Hospital. This team provides short-term and long-term case management to help people with acute and complex care needs to manage their mental health.

“For some of our patients with acute mental health illnesses, there may be longer-term specialist in-patient care needed. These patients are assessed clinically by our Kingaroy mental health team and, if required, they are referred to the Acute Mental Health Unit at the Toowoomba Hospital.

“We are proud of our team at Kingaroy Hospital, including our staff who work in the Emergency Department. Like everyone, our teams have been impacted by the events of the global pandemic. They have worked hard for their communities to keep them safe, and to ensure their patients have the care and treatment they require.

“While they have worked hard, and continue to do, we have been supportive of local fatigue management processes to ensure staff are well-rested and able to perform their duties to the best of their ability.

“Additionally, we always aim to have positive, collaborative working relationships with community organisations, with open lines of communication, to make sure we are all working towards achieving the best possible patient outcomes.

“We remain focused on our patients, communities and providing the services, care, and treatment they require.”

The Darling Downs Health spokesperson could not comment on whether a formal complaint had been lodged about the incident.

* * *

The Select Committee, which heard evidence from across Queensland during several months of public consultation, handed down its report earlier this month.

The State Government welcomed the findings with Health Minister Yvette D’Ath saying the government would review and consider the recommendations.

The committee made 57 recommendations (see link, below), including that new strategies be implemented to attract and retain skilled mental health and alcohol and other drugs practitioners in regional, rural and remote parts of Queensland; expand alcohol and other drugs inpatient services; expand the availability of adult mental health beds and services; expand and regulate the lived experience (peer) workforce, and develop mental healthcare regional plans.

The Kingaroy Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s SMILE program was specifically mentioned in one recommendation, ie. the need to expand workplace suicide prevention programs.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) Queensland Branch also welcomed the report.

“This much-needed inquiry has made important recommendations to bolster the mental health workforce, increase resources for children, youth, adults and older persons, improve the partnership with those who have lived experience and act on the recognised importance of housing and employment opportunities,” chair Prof Brett Emmerson AM said.

“It is well known that Queensland is Australia’s lowest-funded jurisdiction per capita for mental health care. That is why we have consistently called for immediate funding to bring Queensland into line with the spending of other States.”

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