12 July 2023

'I'll fight this tooth and nail': Mayor Charlie Sheahan slams federal cuts to mental health services

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Gundagai Multipurpose Service

Gundagai’s mental health practitioner will not be funded beyond 30 September, forcing residents to travel to Wagga Wagga. Photo: NSW Health.

Gundagai residents will be forced to travel 80 kilometres for mental health services after the Federal Government indicated funding for a mental health nurse would cease.

For the past three years, a nurse has been practising out of Gundagai Medical Centre and Gundagai District Hospital.

The setback means Gundagai residents will have to travel to the nearest mental health services in Wagga Wagga. The mental health practitioner funded by Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network will not be supported beyond 30 September.

Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council Mayor Charlie Sheahan says the government’s decision is “disappointing and very frustrating”.

“I’ll fight this tooth and nail because this is something that shouldn’t be cut,” Cr Sheahan said.

“It shouldn’t be reduced. If anything, it should be further funded and expanded.”

Cr Sheahan said the nurse’s role in Gundagai played a major role in providing mental health support to the community.

“To cut funding and take the crucial asset out of the community, you have to question why they [the Government] are doing it when we’re trying to get better mental health support to our community right across the regions,” he said.

“It’s disappointing because they centralise the services to Wagga, and then it becomes a reactionary situation after people have had episodes or issues.

“Whereas having a resident mental health nurse or practitioner, people can seek assistance when they need it.”

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Cr Sheahan said the regions had been asking for a proactive approach to mental health for many years in response to countless unfortunate incidents.

He said there was a greater understanding at the government level that there was a need for better mental health services in the regions and they should be pushing for it, not pulling away.

“[The Local] GP has told me we have an established mental health practitioner in the community and the services are very effective,” he said.

“For the Government to cut that funding doesn’t make sense in the political climate around mental health services.”

Cr Sheahan said the community understood the services in regional and remote areas cost more than they did in centralised locations.

“But to use a cost factor to make the decision whether we get the services or not is unjust and wrong,” he said.

“Rural and regional people in small communities pay taxes the same value as everyone else and we should be entitled to those services.”

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Federal Member for Riverina Michael McCormack called on the government to guarantee ongoing funding for Gundagai to avert a potential crisis in the town and district.

“Ending funding for such a vital community role makes no sense at all,” Mr McCormack said.

“I have been in contact with the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and Rural and Regional Health, Emma McBride, and urged her to continue funding the mental health nurse at Gundagai.

“I’ve told her how crucial this position has been to saving lives and how it must, at all costs, be retained.”

Mr McCormack said it was a cruel and unnecessary setback for the community to travel to Wagga.

He said Gundagai needed and deserved its own mental health nurse and he would do everything to ensure funding was extended.

Mr McCormack said he had also spoken with Mayor Sheahan, Gundagai Councillor Abb McAlister and Gundagai’s Dr Maya Eamus, who shared his concerns.

“Doctors at Gundagai tell me the service has been particularly effective and beneficial for farmers and youth,” Mr McCormack said.

“We cannot let these people down, nor anyone else who desperately needs advice and support.”

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