Men­tal health pa­tients fac­ing six week wait

Whitsunday Times - - NEWS - Jessica Lamb Jessica.Lamb@whit­sun­day­times.com.au

WHIT­SUN­DAY res­i­dents try­ing to ac­cess men­tal health ser­vices are fac­ing a min­i­mum of six weeks wait for coun­selling ser­vices.

Ru­ral Doc­tors As­so­ci­a­tion Queensland president and Whit­sun­day Doc­tors Ser­vice prac­ti­tioner Konrad Ka­gru said the re­gion had short­ages of fed­er­ally funded men­tal health pro­grams.

“While we have some ex­cel­lent pri­vate psy­chol­o­gists, pa­tients are fac­ing lengthy wait­ing times,” Dr Ka­gru said.

“Pa­tients who have an acute men­tal ill­ness, for ex­am­ple those who are sui­ci­dal; they will get im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion and if pre­sented at the emer­gency depart­ment will be as­sessed straight through to the hospi­tal.

“How­ever, de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety pa­tients are fac­ing a min­i­mum six weeks wait.

“It’s frus­trat­ing for those pa­tients when there is a long wait­ing time as it does act as a bar­rier to re­ceiv­ing timely health care.”

How­ever Dr Ka­gru stressed there was help avail­able for those strug­gling and not to let wait times dis­cour­age pa­tients seek­ing help.

“While wait­ing times ex­ist, GPs will see pa­tients more fre­quently to keep a close eye on them.

“Good on­line re­sources ex­ist like Beyond Blue, the Black Dog In­sti­tute, Head Space and Life­line.

“There is an im­por­tant new pro­gram be­ing rolled out as the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has ex­panded the men­tal health ser­vice fund­ing – in a tele­health de­liv­ery sys­tem.

“While psy­chol­o­gists will still need to see clients for some face-to-face vis­its, some ill­nesses can be man­aged through ex­cel­lent on­line re­sources and ses­sions to al­le­vi­ate the bot­tle­neck of re­sources and wait times.

“Ev­ery pa­tient has dif­fer­ent needs and dif­fer­ent meth­ods of suit­able treat­ment.”

Dr Ka­gru said in the wake of Cy­clone Deb­bie many lo­cals were left feel­ing ex­hausted and frus­trated.

“While Cy­clone Deb­bie may have pre­cip­i­tated for a lot of peo­ple some un­der­ly­ing men­tal ill­nesses or may have tested their re­silience, we can’t say Deb­bie caused an in­crease in men­tal ill­ness,” he said.

North­ern Aus­tralia Pri­mary Health Lim­ited, which con­tracted by North Queensland Pri­mary Health Ser­vice, pro­vides psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vices to the re­gion. Se­nior di­rec­tor of men­tal health ser­vices Phil Ihme, said the wait­ing time is­sue was a com­plex one.

“What fund­ing we re­ceive through the Depart­ment of Health is de­ter­mined by the depart­ment and the pri­mary health ser­vice and what we re­ceive dic­tates what we can de­liver on,” Mr Ihme said.

“There is only a cer­tain amount of fund­ing to de­liver to a par­tic­u­lar re­gion,” he said.

“When the num­ber of peo­ple re­quir­ing ser­vices is much higher ... there will al­ways be is­sues around wait times.

“It’s not a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem to the NAPHL. For ex­am­ple if you live in Ger­many the wait time is six months.”

Mr Ihme said men­tal health had al­ways been an un­der­funded area and sec­tor re­form was aim­ing to im­prove it.

“We have been work­ing with NQPHN, try­ing to ad­dress those is­sues and be as ac­ces­si­ble as we can,” he said, “We work tire­lessly to pro­vide the best ser­vice we can by work­ing with GPs, the com­mu­nity and com­mis­sion­ing body to pro­vide men­tal health care to the Whit­sun­days.”

Mr Ihme said the re­gion was a unique catch­ment area and strug­gled with be­ing re­mote.

“Peo­ple come here to study and then go back in­ter­state; we don’t at­tract and re­tain the work­force we sup­port by do­ing place­ments,” he said.

“I think re­form is a longterm process and it is some­thing we are striv­ing to­wards.”

Mr Ihme de­tailed the step-to-care ap­proaches goal was to un­der­stand what pa­tients needed in hos­pi­tals and pri­vate ser­vice, and then match peo­ple with their spe­cific needs.

“Ev­ery­one was get­ting same ser­vice,” he said..

“For ex­am­ple if we had 100 peo­ple com­ing through; a per­son might need some sup­port, but can also do some on­line self-help.

“That would be suf­fi­cient for some peo­ple, so the other three to four (peo­ple), who need a more in­ten­sive care can be re­ferred on quicker.

“The other two or three who need ac­cess to some­thing else, free up some re­sources to deal with the bot­tle­neck.

“Ba­si­cally prior to the step care - ev­ery­one got the same care and now the idea is that ev­ery­one gets in­di­vid­u­alised care for what they need.”

It’s frus­trat­ing for pa­tients when there is a long wait­ing time as it does act as a bar­rier to re­ceiv­ing timely health care. — Dr Konrad Ka­gru

PHOTO: LORENZO ANTONUCCI/ISTOCK

Coun­selling ser­vices for anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion are at a min­i­mum wait­ing list of six weeks in the Whit­sun­day re­gion.

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