19 January 2021

Southern NSW Local Health District's review of mental health services 'concerning'

| Hannah Sparks
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Main administration building at Kenmore Hospital.

The Ron Hemmings mental health unit at Kenmore Hospital in Goulburn is among non-acute mental health services under review by Southern NSW Local Health District. Photo: File.

Carers of family members whose lives depend on non-acute mental health services in southern NSW have expressed concern about the announcement of a review of those services by the local health district.

The Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) says the review “will consider and make recommendations for the enhancement of non-acute mental health services” in the area. However, Helen Delany and Rob Foster, residents of the Goulburn region, aren’t convinced.

They are among carers worried the review will spark a closure or reduction due to the timing and lack of transparency about the process.

“I am concerned and have no confidence that they won’t reduce the services,” says Helen. “For starters, the review started in December but the information didn’t get out until 8 January.”

The first news of the review was published on SNSWLHD’s Facebook page on that date, giving people such as Helen and Rob three weeks to have their say via an email address provided.

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“[The deadline of] 31 January is only two weeks away so presumably SNSWLHD is hoping no-one is going to find out about it,” says Rob. “It’s really disappointing.”

Many staff of non-acute mental health services who are potential submitters, or who could have let Helen and Rob know about the review were on leave in December. As were staff of the Health Services Union, which wasn’t aware of the review.

Helen also says there are many carers and people with mental illness who either aren’t on social media, or who will struggle to write a submission in a short amount of time and via email.

She also says the review’s terms of reference are “wishy-washy”.

Helen Delany and her son, Dean Richardson.

Helen Delany’s son, Dean Richardson, is a patient at Ron Hemmings mental health unit in Goulburn. Photo: Supplied.

They include:

  • “Best practices in non-acute mental health services (nationally and internationally);
  • Relationship and interface between SNSWLHD non-acute services and other providers of services in the mental health sector;
  • Equity of access to non-acute mental health services;
  • Financial sustainability of services;
  • The interface between non-acute and acute inpatient services in SNSWLHD.”

As for what ‘best practices’ stands for and how people outside of SNSWLHD will know the financial sustainability of services, Helen isn’t sure.

Helen and Rob were in a similar situation with SNSWLHD three months ago when the Ron Hemmings mental health unit in Goulburn closed for review.

Helen’s son, Dean Richardson, has schizoaffective disorder and is admitted to Ron Hemmings Unit every 12 or 16 months when his hallucinations get too much. Rob’s wife, Nicola, was admitted in early October 2020 to manage her suicidal thoughts.

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Rob can’t understand why SNSWLHD is carrying out another review when one was just conducted in late 2020.

However, SNSWLHD says this latest review is of non-acute mental health services across the region, from Goulburn to the Victorian border, across to the South Coast.

In addition, the submissions will be read by external reviewers, including a director of nursing, psychiatrist and a consumer reviewer. The review should be completed by March 2021.

Rob Foster and his wife, Nicola.

Rob Foster will be advocating for the Ron Hemmings Unit to remain open for his wife, Nicola. Photo: Supplied

Both Helen and Rob will be advocating for Ron Hemmings to stay. The unit has kept Dean out of psychiatric wards for about four years, and has broken the cycle of Nicola reaching breaking point and being admitted for supervision at the Chisholm Ross acute mental health unit in Goulburn.

Rob would also like to see SNSWLHD increase awareness of the unit. He and Nicola had relied on community mental health services for about three years until they were told Ron Hemmings was an option.

Helen would also like to see more support workers for carers of newly diagnosed patients. She says the support worker she was assigned in Sydney in 2002, when Dean was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, was able to help her navigate through the huge life change and challenging early days.

“Those support workers don’t exist anymore,” she says. “Education is key – when you learn more about an illness, it becomes less scary and helps you to accept it.”

Community submissions can be made by email before 31 January to the email address here.

Original Article published by Hannah Sparks on About Regional.

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