Candidates respond to call for counsellors in hospitals

Filed in Just In by May 20, 2021

YESTERDAY, the Shadow Minister for mental health, Tara Moriarty, called for counsellors to be in each hospital across the electorate to provide basic support for mental health in our communities. (Read: Labor calls for counsellors in local hospitals).

The peak body for counsellors and psychotherapists the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PCFA) has supported the idea saying it is absolutely an excellent and completely great idea. Dr Di Stow, president of PCFA explained many counsellors already live in regional Australia and could provide an important role during the current shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists. (Read: Peak body supports call for counsellors in local hospitals).

However, the Nationalss said Labor’s proposal is a “cheap attempt at politicising” the serious issue of mental health. (See David Layzell’s comments below).

Other candidates gave their position on the proposal:

Tracy Norman, independent: This sounds like a good interim measure. However it will take more than this to truly address a growing problem in outer communities. We need to support grass root organisations which are in communities dealing with these issues on a daily basis. We need early intervention for primary school children and even 0-5, we need resourcing for teachers who are dealing with mental health issues but aren’t equipped to do so and being put under extra pressure. We need more counsellors in schools and we need support and mentorship for parents who are dealing with these issues around mental health with little guidance or support.

Calim Blair, Sustainable Australia Party: We support Labor’s announcement and the rights of all Australians to be able to access basic mental health services, but also recognise that employing counsellors with better Telehealth access as a good starting point.

Sue Gilroy, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers: The move to a counsellor in every hospital with increased access to Telehealth would be an improvement on our current situation of little or no mental health assistance. It is not good enough that a mental health patient presenting to a hospital as a cry for help has no avenue for acute care or is even at times sent home without supervision. This current situation places significant pressure on our emergency department staff with little or no support and potentially places the patient at further risk. Given that patients present 24/7 this would need to be accessed around the clock to be truly effective.

Sue Abbott, the Greens: I think it’s a good idea and the counsellors need to be properly trained and given proper resources. This is not just an election issue, this is a real crisis which needs to be addressed with more resources. 

Kate Fraser, Independent: Sadly mental health services are sadly lacking in all parts of the electorate, Where There’s A Will, leads providing education and help. Those suffering from a mental  situation would obvious fare better close to home and their support network. Mental health is certainly part of my commitment to strengthen and improve medical facilities in the areas.

Kirsty O’Connell, Independent: I think this is a really good measure and a great starting point. Where There’s A Will training and education should be funded across the electorate. I am hearing from families who are impacted and there are simply not enough beds and not enough resources. The way people are first managed with their first presentation, if they have the right intervention, the right care, they do so much better. We urgently need better patient transport, there are police who are taking patients to care when ambulance are unavailable and that is taking police out of our communities. I also think the old Maitland hospital should become a centre for mental health. I’d like to hear more from experts in this area to see what else could be done as this is one of the single biggest challenges we face. 

Steve Reynolds, Independent: It’s a start. But the triaging system needs to work better, they need to see a doctor as soon as possible, then a counsellor. I’ve waited with a mate for two hours in a hospital, it takes a lot for a bloke to go to the hospital and say they need help and he ended up leaving. It’s the same across the electorate, I was in Quirindi last night and they were talking about how bad it is there. There needs to be a psychologist as a minimum in our major centres at least Scone, Muswellbrook and Singleton. If someone is identified as being at risk, they need to see a doctor. There need to be more incentives and more funding for psychologists, there is a huge shortage. The issue in our electorate is greater than a counsellor, we need to have the conversation and triaging is the most important part and getting them to a doctor.

David Layzell, National Party: There are a number of services across the region for infants, children, young people, and adults as well as their families and carers, prioritising severe and complex mental health problems, with a view to getting the best outcomes for everyone in the community. I have spoken with our Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor – a former nurse with first-hand experience working in the health system – and she assures me that while many of these services are based at larger hospitals and centres, the integrated and networked model, supported by an established and well-used telehealth system, means all local people have equal access to these specialised mental health and counselling services. Where possible, community mental health is the preferred option because it allows the person ongoing access to their other social and emotional supports, which are a critical component of their care and recovery. However, if someone is a risk to themselves or in acute distress, then they will be admitted into the hospital for care and treatment.

The NSW Nationals in government have worked to ensure mental health gets the dedicated ministerial focus it deserves, and there are a range of specific supports available in our region:

  • NSW Health has locally-based counselling staff, peer workers and programs for the district, targeting particular groups and communities who require additional support
  • For young people, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) provides specialist mental health services to infants, children, young people, their families and carers in Hunter Valley, and throughout the local health district.
  • ‘Farm Gate’ peer support workers and counsellors, including a position in Scone and the Upper Hunter, stretching from Murrurundi to Maitland.
  • Rural Adversity Mental Health Program coordinators across the district, including in the Hunter Valley.
  • School Link Coordinators providing specialised support across the district.
  • Suicide Prevention Outreach Teams (SPOT) based in Maitland and mobilised to support people in the Hunter Valley experiencing suicidal distress in their home environment or local community.
  • Towards Zero Suicide Rural Counsellors sit alongside and within the same building in Maitland as the SPOT team.

For more information on where candidates stand: Voting 101: Upper Hunter by-election.

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