Sunday, 9 June 2019

Mental health service aims to slash waiting times


NEW Top End mental health service designed to put at risk children in front of a psychologist within 24 hours will save lives, according to its founder.

The new program, ‘Just In Time’, aims to sidestep lengthy wait times and prohibitive appointment costs to establish what will be the city’s first bulk-billed child psychology clinic.

The founder of the program, Darwin community health and trauma expert Christopher Turner, said waiting times for child psychologists have blown out in the Top End.

“What this (new clinic) will do is help kids who are drowning,” he said. “We will put a child in front of a professional within 24 hours and provide a circuit-breaker.”

Mr Turner said current wait times — which are prolonged by referral process whereby people experiencing trauma must see a GP before being referred on to a psych — are endangering lives.

“People going to GPs are already in crisis,” he said

And with Top End families struggling in an economic downturn, access to psychologists, within the current system, is diminishing.

“It’s so expensive, people can’t afford a psychologist,” Mr Tuner said. “The end result is families are falling apart, and kids are committing suicide.”

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said her child, who experiences serious mental health issues, was being let down by a system too slow to intervene.

“We wanted my then eight year old to be assessed by a child psych. We reached out for help through our GP and got a referral to a private psych, but the wait was months,” she said. “There needs to be a reduction in time spent waiting for support.”

The Just in Time clinic will service full-paying clients, including those with private health insurance, which will subsidise the out of pocket expensed of those unable to pay.

One Top End psychiatrist told the NT News the biggest problem with establishing such a clinic would be staffing.

“There’s a tyranny of distance and the issue with these services is human resources,” they said.

Another issue, according to the psychiatrist, is the provision of necessary long-term treatment.

“The hard bit is the actually the ongoing treatment of someone with complex, social, emotional and interpersonal difficulties.

“What happens if they need ongoing, significantly involved treatment that is complex and requires expertise?”

Originally published in NT News Sunday 9 June 2019


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