People falling through cracks of ‘botched’ mental health system, Minister says

PEOPLE are falling through the cracks of the State’s “botched” mental health system and “going missing”.

Mental Health Minister Martin Foley this week told the Geelong Advertiser Victoria’s public mental health system — including Barwon Health — was under review and would be overhauled.

Results of the independent review were expected to be delivered to the State Government shortly, Mr Foley said.

The existing system, introduced by the former Liberal State Government and separated the mental health intake and assessment processes, was proving disastrous for many people and was driving some to drugs, Mr Foley said.

“What we’ve seen, not just in Barwon but right across the State, is that people disappear from the system,” he said. “People have gone missing at a time when the link between mental health and drug-induced psychosis is at an all-time high pitch for the community.”

Mr Foley said many people reaching out for mental health support were being told “we’ll get back to you”.

Some phone calls were not responded to for some time while feedback indicated others were never returned.

“Right across the state, people have sought assistance and dropped off the radar. Where are those people (now)? They are invariably going to end up in the acute mental health system, the acute health system, the justice system or they are under a bridge somewhere,” Mr Foley said.

It was vital people who reached out for help were assisted very quickly, he said.

And the public system needed to be flexible enough to deal with people’s mental health issues and drug and alcohol issues, while also attending to their family, housing, education and training needs, he said.

“If you’re unwell and you’re ready for that support and you don’t get it, it’s not much of a hop-step-and-a-jump to say ‘well, how am I going to deal with my depression? How am I going to deal with my isolation? How am I going to deal with my schizophrenia? And there is the drug,” Mr Foley said.

He said he did not blame Barwon Health or other Victorian health services for the problems being experienced by mental health patients because of the “botched recommissioning system” which had been introduced by former mental health minister Mary Wooldridge.

“I don’t blame them; they bid for a service that was on offer,” Mr Foley said.

“Instead of integrating care, what it did was it made it harder for vulnerable people to navigate their way through service provision.”

Last month, Geelong mental health community support worker Nicci Wall — who also has severe bipolar — said she waited five days for a return phonecall, after notifying Barwon Health’s mental health intake service that she was having suicidal thoughts.

Barwon Health conceded at the time there were problems with aspects of its mental health, drugs and alcohol service — namely its centralised phoneline — and said a review was under way.

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