The Catcher in the Rye

With some of the worst mental health statistics in NSW, including a suicide rate heading towards twice the state average, the North Coast has taken delivery of a plan aimed at better supporting the wellbeing of patients, community clients and anyone at risk of experiencing wellbeing issues.

The Northern NSW Mental Health Integration Plan was launched recently by the Federal MP for Page Kevin Hogan who said it grew out of the Health Leadership Forum he established soon after his election in 2013.

The forum’s aim is to promote greater collaboration between the various local health service providers - the North Coast Primary Health Network, Northern NSW Local Health District, Aboriginal Medical Services, Mental Health Forum, Mental Health Interagency Meeting and the Northern NSW GP Clinical Council.

Mental health is a major issue in the Northern Rivers and this plan is all about making the journey to recovery that much easier by putting those with mental health issues in touch with the right service when they need it,” Mr Hogan said.

We have some wonderful health workers and great services, however, the system is fragmented and the lack of integration of services can lead to poor outcomes for patients.

While I will always argue for more funding to address mental health issues in our community, this plan makes sure that we can get the most out of existing services by putting the patient first.

We need to provide much more integrated care around people’s needs with multi-disciplinary teams of professionals to make the system easy for patients and their families.”

The region is desperately in need of improved mental health management. According to 2013-14 data -

  • the number of Northern NSW residents aged 16 years and over with high or very high psychological distress was 11.8% compared to 9.8% statewide;
  • the rate per 100,000 Northern NSW residents aged 15-24 years admitted to hospital due to self-harm was 509, compared to 336 across NSW;
  • the rate per 100,000 Northern NSW residents of all ages admitted to hospital due to self-harm was 249 compared to 143 across NSW;
  • the suicide rate per 100,000 Northern NSW residents was 15.0 compare to 9.8 across NSW.

Moreover, as the Plan notes, lack of access to the Internet poses a barrier to accessing the high volume of mental health information, support and services currently available online. The Internet is accessed by 69% of the adult population in Northern NSW, compared to 76% in NSW generally.

In Northern NSW mental health services are provided by the Local Health District, Community Managed Organisations, private practitioners, and community groups.

The Plan has three main foci -

  1. A positive collaborative culture
    Shared vision for the future; Shared agenda for integration; Reduce stigma associated with mental health
  2. A system that coordinates care around people’s needs
    Make care navigation easy; Build shared client information systems; Build multidisciplinary teams of professionals
  3. Leadership and governance
    Build strong leadership and governance to foster integration

Implementation of the plan rests with an interagency Integration Council that will provide ongoing strategic direction, resources allocation, probity and problem resolution. An Integration Implementation Group will also be formed to monitor, evaluate, and address operational problems, and foster commitment to the plan.