Assistant Minister McBride – interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing – 5 June 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's interview with Greg Jennett about Head to Health Alice Springs.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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GREG JENNETT, HOST: Emma McBride, welcome back to the program. Now you're there in Alice Springs, allocating more than $11 million for adult and child mental health services. When was this need identified and what exactly will that money do?

EMMA McBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: This is a really important co-investment from the Northern Territory Government and from the Commonwealth. The $11.5 million will be for the establishment of a key hub for children aged 0 to 12 and for an adult hub. So, people will be able to walk in, without a prior appointment, free of charge, and get the mental health care and support that they need. We know that distress has been rising in communities right around Australia, including here in Alice, and I’m so pleased to be here today with the Northern Territory Minister Lauren Moss, to be able to make this significant investment for communities in Alice Springs and the surrounding area.

And what will be really important about this funding and important generally about Head to Health services, is the flexibility of the funding. There'll be a genuine co-design process so for services locally, the local community will have their say in what the service looks like to make sure that it meets the needs of this community and is culturally responsive and safe.

JENNETT: I will ask about the particular circumstances in Alice Springs, particularly through the last 6 to 12 months there, but what sort of services are presently available? Has Alice Springs, would it be fair to say, been underserviced for mental health care so far?

McBRIDE: Alice Springs has some particular challenges and we are determined as a Commonwealth Government, the Prime Minister has visited Alice Springs and Minister Burney has got a strong focus on Alice Springs, but we're determined to make sure that we work hand in hand with the Northern Territory Government and with local service providers to make sure that people can get the care and support they need.

I was able to meet today with the local Congress and the Chief Medical Officer there, Dr John Boffa, and he was pleased to let me know that they do have strong psychological services here, that they had a paediatric psychologist, that they do have a good support services available, but we need to make sure that they are strengthened. We need to make sure that those workforce pathways are properly created to make sure that there aren't the long wait list that people currently experience so that people don't end up presenting to emergency departments when they could have got the right kind of care at the right time within the community.

JENNETT: And how does that access work? Is there a charge? Are appointments needed? How many staff are going to be involved in administering these services?

McBRIDE: With the Head of Health services nationally, the Commonwealth Government is investing $600 million around Australia to set up a 61 Head to Health, adult services and 17 kids' hubs. What we would say with these – and there's 12 up and running already in different parts of Australia, including in Launceston in Tasmania, Townsville in far north Queensland, and Geelong in Victoria – that the benefit of the Head to Health services, that someone can walk in without a referral, they don't need a prior appointment and it's free of charge. They'll be able to get that immediate care and support they need and also, in the longer term, be able to be linked in with the right kind of ongoing services and that they need.

So, these have been very welcome in communities right around Australia and we're very pleased to be working hand in hand with the Territory Government and with local service providers to make sure that it's well integrated, that it builds cohesion and that it builds capacity in the Alice and for people in the surrounding communities.

JENNETT: And I think I've seen a statement that specified these services would be targeted towards patients with moderate to severe mental illnesses. Then once they're in the system, they are being provided care by more than just a psychologist or psychiatrist. What are the disciplines that are involved in these services?

McBRIDE: So you're right, these services are designed for someone that would need more than a referral from their GP to see a psychologist for individual sessions with a psychologist, but to avoid them ending up in the emergency department of our already overstretched hospitals. They're designed to have a multidisciplinary approach. In some communities we've seen psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health social workers, occupational therapists, peer workers, so that the make up of the workforce profile will match the needs of those communities to make sure that they are properly co-designed, that they're culturally responsive and that they're safe.

JENNETT: And what are you picking up there Emma McBride? I mean, it's been very well documented the recent unrest and family difficulties going on in Alice Springs and town camps nearby. Is it that people are telling you that this has added to strain on mental health services in Alice?

McBRIDE: I've been very comforted by the conversations that I've had with the Congress this morning, including with the Chief Medical Officer, Dr John Boffa, and he has said today, reassuring people that this community is safe, that the work that the Commonwealth is doing with the Northern Territory has been welcomed and that it is being very strongly informed by local service providers, by First Nations people, to make sure that everything is done in genuine co-design and in partnership.

So very pleased to be in Alice today and to be able to make this important announcement which will help to boost those services, to give the right kind of financial scaffolding that they can be able to expand them, to meet the needs of this community.

JENNETT: And Emma, you've made the point a few times in this conversation that co-design with community organisations will be a key part of this. Do you have any examples on how a service delivered through to health in Alice Springs might differ, even differ markedly from one offered in your part of the world on the Central Coast of New South Wales?

McBRIDE: And this is what Minister Lauren Moss has emphasised today, is that this is a genuine co-design process to make sure that we have that strong voice of lived and living experience, particularly for First Nations people. It might be that this particular service has more First Nations healthcare workers than we see in other services. It might be that they have an occupational therapist or a speech pathologist. But it's absolutely critical that this is a genuine collaboration that we make sure that we have, that any decision we make is informed by lived and living experience so that services are responsive, that they're culturally safe, that they build the capacity in the community, and that they reduce the strain on our emergency departments.

JENNETT: And up and running by what date? Emma.

McBRIDE: So, these two services in the Alice will be up and running next year. It gives us the time to be able to have a thorough co-design and consultation process in working hand in hand with the Northern Territory Government. So, we're working as quickly as possible to make sure that these services are up and running and at the same time making sure that we have that genuine co-design process so that when it is properly established that it will be meeting the needs of this community and the surrounding areas.

JENNETT: All right. Well, the details are out there and announced. Thanks for running through them today. With us, Emma McBride. We'll talk to you again soon.

McBRIDE: Good to be with you.

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