Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt) (19:13): I rise tonight to speak of an issue that has touched many people, not just in my life but in the lives of many in my electorate. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure you are familiar with some of the issues I have raised in the past in relation to mental health. The issue is mental health, the provision of mental health services and the extreme challenges that these providers face in gaining the ongoing financial support from government that enables them to carry out their vital work.
Firstly, it is important to outline some of the programs that are ongoing in my area and a few tragic situations that have really driven home the importance of having these services available. Starting as a pilot in 2010, initially funded by the Queensland government in collaboration with the Centacare in Cairns, the Far North Queensland Rural Division of General Practice, Youth Link and Aftercare, Time Out has been critical for the Cairns community, reducing in-patient stays for young people aged 15 to 25 through early intervention.
It has made a huge difference to their lives, many going on training courses and into jobs that they could not have considered before and becoming productive members of society. I had a couple of instances myself where I was able to refer families to this Time Out centre-families that had been absolutely devastated by the challenges of young people with mental health issues. As a consequence of that, these young people have found an opportunity to get a direction and are starting to move on with their lives.
If you think about it purely from a cost perspective, the average stay is about 50 days in the Time Out centre. Compare the cost of a 50-day residential stay with the cost of putting a young person in an adult psychiatric ward, where the average stay is 312 days. If you are arguing economics, you can see that there is a huge difference here. Unfortunately, these kinds of resounding results were not enough to protect this program from funding cuts, the direct result of the former Labor government’s slashing funding in Queensland Health.
Time Out was told in January that its funding would be discontinued. At this point, I became involved in the situation, thanks to the tireless campaigning of the Queensland State Manager for Aftercare, Ivan Frkovic. Mr Frkovic and I recognise the overwhelming need for this service, given there is no other centre of this kind in North Queensland.
It took some urgent conversations with the Minister for Health in Queensland and Minister Springborg agreed to fund this residential service for a further six months. I will continue to fight to support this service. We need to keep Time Out House alive. These are the sorts of things that are absolutely critical for the mental health and wellbeing of our young people.
After meeting a wonderful lady, Adrianne Hicks, who is a carer for a son with schizophrenia, I was able to secure a grant for a pilot program in 2006 under the Howard government. So successful was this program that the Cairns Mental Health Carers Support Hub was launched in October 2009. The hub is a one-stop shop and its approach has been absolutely fantastic- a success for families and services alike.
It has seen a threefold increase in families contacting the service, a 300 per cent increase in referrals from other services, a 350 per cent increase in referrals from the hub to other service providers and a tenfold increase in their ability to provide counselling support to carers and families throughout the region.
A carers’ hub involves the people who actually supply care and support for the carers who keep other people out of mental health institutions. They desperately need the support. Again, if we look at the economic side of things, it is much cheaper to provide funding support for the carers than to institutionalise the people whom they are caring for.
We have had an ongoing battle with funding. The previous government refused to support them. Again, I recognise the importance of this service and the support it offers to family members and carers of people with mental illness. I certainly will continue to fight for this service. I was fortunate in that Minister Dutton has indicated that they will be supporting the carers’ hub, but it is short-term funding. We need to get something locked in so that we do not have to fight every year for this and we need to start looking at some long-term commitments.
There was a sister venture to this and we had actually received a $350,000 commitment to a mental health Clubhouse. The carers’ hub was going to be the sponsor for it and if we had not got support for the hub to continue, this other commitment would have fallen over. We would not have been able to support it. Minister Dutton has kept alive the mental health carers support centre and, in doing so, that will allow us the Clubhouse, and that will allow people to transition from care to an environment where they can start to do some work and become financially independent. A lot more needs to be done in this area because, quite frankly, governments have been very slow in looking at these ancillary services that actually keep people out of institutions and which are so desperately needed.
The Dr Edward Koch Foundation has been providing suicide prevention activities and support in Far North Queensland for over 18 years. This nonprofit organisation was established in March 1997 and in recent years its primary focus has been suicide prevention and post suicide support. As part of its suicide prevention focus, the foundation delivers life workshops, a life bereavement support service in Far North Queensland, a suicide prevention task force and life suicide prevention plans.
The foundation has always operated on a shoestring budget, but this year its funding has been pulled as a result of actions by the previous government. The foundation’s suicide prevention work is internationally recognised, but the former Labor government decided in its wisdom to give its funding to the Wesley Mission as a national organisation, which removes all local expertise from the situation.
The irony is that Wesley Mission has recognised the value of the Koch Foundation’s program and has asked for permission to replicate the service and use its networks. This is unbelievable and highlights how it is convenient for bureaucrats to dump the money into one national organisation, rather than supporting long-established, internationally recognised organisations that know exactly what needs to be done within the local community.
Another one is the Declan Crouch Fund. Ruth Crouch is a local mum who tragically lost her 13-year-old son, Declan, to suicide in March 2011. She set up the Declan Crouch Fund to raise suicide awareness with money raised through the Dr Edward Koch Foundation. Together the fund and the foundation are running a campaign to lobby politicians for much needed adolescent mental health wards in Cairns. We do not have any at the moment. The petition is online and already has some 6,400 signatures. I am sure it will reach its goal of 10,000. Earlier this year, as part of the Cairns Corporate Challenge, the member for Barron River, Michael Trout, walked the Kokoda Trail and they raised something like $83,000 in support of this wonderful initiative.
Why is there such a focus in my region on services outside the hospital system? Why is there an urgent need for adolescent mental health beds in our hospital? I recently had the opportunity to walk through the adult psychiatric ward and the forensic ward in the Cairns Base Hospital. It was a real shock; it is disgraceful.
People working there are doing a great job, but some people come out of prison and go straight into those wards while looking for day release to get out and commit crimes and so go back to prison, which has better facilities than does the hospital. It is little wonder I was contacted by the mother of a 13-year-old girl who had been in and out of that ward since she was 11 because she had been swallowing razor blades and batteries in trying to take her life. It is appalling.
Through intervention I was able to get the state minister, Lawrence Springborg, to have her admitted to the Barrett Adolescent Centre, outside Brisbane. The centre is looking at expanding to Townsville, but it is more appropriate in Cairns. The argument is that Townsville has a wraparound service to support it which is convenient for the bureaucracy. The reality is Cairns has a much greater need because of the rate of suicide.
It is about time we look at putting in services where they are needed, rather than for the convenience of the bureaucracy. I will argue strongly for this, because if we do not start to deal with this important issue of service provision for adolescent mental health, we will be a very sad society. I will raise this issue regularly until we get some solutions for these problems in our regional areas.
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