Mental Health Services

I had a different speech planned for tonight. I will not take up my whole five minutes because I know that everyone wants to get out of here, but I will make a brief contribution about an email I received this afternoon. One of my constituents watched the webcast of today’s proceedings. She was a psychologist employed by the Hunter New England Local Health District who worked in mental health outreach. In 2014 she lost her job because of the efficiency dividend cuts to health services across the State. The Hunter New England Local Health District made the decision that it would get out of the business of mental health services outreach because it thought Medicare Local could provide them. Of course, six months later Medicare Local has its budget slashed by the Federal Government. Ultimately, it turned out there was a perfect storm in the withdrawal of mental health services in the area.

That constituent was watching today as amendments to the workers compensation legislation bill were put forward. She sent me quite an angry email because, as she said, I had the audacity to thank the Premier and the Minister for Mental Health and congratulate them on their announcement earlier today regarding $90 million in funding for mental health services. I said that I supported that funding because it is what we should be doing. The young lady who lost her job a few years ago used a creative line to sum up her angst about what has happened to mental health services in New South Wales. She said words to the effect of, “Clayton, you have just congratulated the Premier and the Minister but I don’t know why. It’s like they stole our car, brought the tyres back and asked us to say thank you.”

I put that on record because in 2014 I did quite a bit of work with that lady and her team. At the time they all had to remain anonymous when I made speeches in Parliament that were similar to the speech I am making now. I said that mental health services are very difficult to deliver in regional areas. The psychologist told me about one person she had to visit who lived quite far up in the Hunter Valley near Kandos and Rylstone. It took her three hours to drive there to see the patient and three hours to drive back. On her way back she would try to pick up another patient at Quirindi, Scone, Muswellbrook or Aberdeen so that she would at least see two patients on those days.

People might think having a highly paid professional deliver only two services in a day is surely a waste of public money. But for people living in regional communities where those services are not available, the investment of taxpayer dollars to provide outreach services is incredibly important. That is a conversation we need to have about mental health in regional communities. I apologise to my constituent if I caused her any offence today. I take on board her email and thank her for the feedback she has given me. I particularly like her analogy that it is like they have stolen our car, given us our wheels back and asked us to say thank you. I will make sure that we remind the public of that as we head towards the next election.