Since its inception eight years ago, the Better Access to Mental Health Care program has significantly improved the management of mental health problems. While the program allows for the treatment of a broad range of mental health disorders, the great majority of issues managed by general practitioners under the scheme relate to depression and/or anxiety. 

The Better Access program is open to all GPs and replaced the previous Better Outcomes program that was available only to GPs who had undergone specific psychological training. 

BEACH data analysis has shown that compared to Better Outcomes, the new program significantly increased the rates of depression management in primary care, with a halving of the referral rate to psychiatrists, a six-fold increase in referrals to psychologists, and no change in medication rates. 

Callcarpa Berries at the Rainforest Botanic Gardens

Long known as the Lismore tip, or even less attractively, the town dump, the facility that manages the city’s wastes is now called the Lismore Recycling and Recovery Centre.

The change is not just in the branding, but in reality, with the well managed facility becoming the envy of many a local Council.

An equally dramatic transformation has taken place at the adjacent Rainforest Botanic Gardens. Here, on a sizeable patch of once unappealing scrub, characterised by weeds, fallen trees, and illegally dumped rubbish, knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers are creating a network of walking paths through regenerated sub-tropical forest.

Such a project was long the dream of Friends of Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens, a group formed well before a site had even been identified. A founder member was plant enthusiast and long-serving retired local GP, the late Calder Chaffey (see separate story).

Today, the gardens are a protected space where representatives of all the unique plant species of our sub-tropical area can be grown in an ecosystem where they will thrive.

Construction teams working with contractor Brookfield Multiplex are rapidly transforming the site.

The chosen 6 hectare site at Ewingsdale, on the approach road to Byron Bay, is being rapidly transformed into the new Byron Central Hospital (BCH), scheduled to be opened by mid-2016.

The enabling and early works stage has included the completion of internal road base preparation, site in-ground drainage, bulk excavation and cut/fill, and installation of temporary site sheds.

More than 15,000 cubic metres of earthworks have been completed, and over 1,500m of stormwater pipe installed to date.

Taking shape is a new facility to replace the smaller hospitals in Byron Bay and Mullumbimby, estimated to cost $80M. Its aesthetic design incorporates a range of enviro-friendly features.

Services to be offered will include 24-hour emergency attention, with 14 ED acute treatment spaces; 43 overnight inpatient beds; low-risk maternity services, 20-bed, non-acute mental health unit; X-ray, ultrasound, CT, and OPG (dental imaging); 4-chair dental service, 4-chair chemotherapy unit, and ambulatory care services.

There will be expanded ambulatory clinic space for visiting medical services, allied health and community health clinics, plus co-location of community and allied health.

BCH will have over 2,400 power points and 700 data points, and some 102,000m of communications cabling and 95,000m of power cabling.

The construction contractor, Brookfield Multiplex, has a strong commitment to Aboriginal participation in its workforce, and using local contractors wherever possible.

MONA Art Gallery

Rapidly establishing a reputation as a focus of creativity – think David Walsh’s MONA gallery, Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize win, and global awards for its single-malt whiskies – Tasmania is hosting a major conference on health system innovation.

The focus of the ‘Sustainable Healthcare Transformation’ conference in Hobart from 18-20 March is the improvement of hospital performance in Tasmania, nationally and globally.

Amongst the high-flying presenters are Sir Robert Naylor, Chief Executive of University College London Hospitals, knighted for services to UK health care, Professor Chris Baggoley AO, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Anthony Moorhouse, CEO of emergency management firm operating Dynamiq, and well-known spokesperson on youth matters, Holly Ransom.

An ‘on-the-couch’ panel session with key speakers will be hosted by former ABC North Coast station manager, and popular breakfast host, Martin Corben.

“I am currently travelling the country listening carefully to GPs and patients and taking the opportunity to have frank and fearless discussions about constructive ways to protect Medicare for the long term.”

Seldom, if ever, has a new Health Minister started their incumbency with such a statement, but we live in unusual times, not least because Sussan Ley (“Lee”) hails from a rural electorate and is female. Indeed, she is just the second woman in the Abbott inner cabinet, joining Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

The reshuffle of that cabinet in late December 2014 saw the appointment of Ms Ley as a replacement for the much-criticised Peter Dutton, who kept the portfolio after being shadow minister before the Coalition’s 2013 victory.

Sussan Ley is the federal Member for the rural electorate of Farrar, named after William James Farrer, the father of the Australian wheat industry. Fortunately, as her patch covers 250,000 square kilometres of NSW, her skills include piloting aircraft (along with air traffic controlling, farming and tax accountancy).

The immense challenges of the portfolio, compounded by the contentious nature of health service delivery, was highlighted at the time her appointment was announced, with the AMA slamming the government’s handling of the Medicare funding issue.

Before long the Minister had cut short her holiday and returned to the political fray to announce that the $7.00 GP co-payment proposed in the now-shaky 2013-14 Budget was to be shelved.

By late January she had embarked on a round of ongoing consultations with GPs and their representative groups about “protecting Medicare for the long-term”.

She said no deadline had been placed on this process because the government wished to get a “fully representative view” from all relevant groups.