Radio interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Belinda King, ABC Northern Tasmania - 27 February 2023

Read the transcript of Minister McBride's Interview with Belinda King on Head to Health Launceston and Tasmanian health care.

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

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BELINDA KING, HOST: Perhaps it was our time in isolation during COVID. Perhaps it was the shifting attitudes more broadly in society. But I think we've all started to realise that mental health is pretty darn important. But not everyone can afford mental health assistance when they need it, which is where something like Head to Heath comes into play. To talk more about Head to Health, we are joined this morning in the studio by the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. We've got Emma McBride with us. Good morning.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Good morning, Belinda. It's good to be here.

KING: Welcome to Tassie.

MCBRIDE: Thank you so much.

KING: You hail from the Central Coast of New South Wales

MCBRIDE: I do yes, I just flew in last night, and it's a beautiful morning here.

KING: First time in Tassie?

MCBRIDE: I've been here a number of times, so good to be back.

KING: Fabulous. Now I gather you're here to officially open Head to Health, the Head to Health centre. It's been actually operational on that site for a while hasn't it?

MCBRIDE: It has, it's been up and running since January last year, and in that time, more than 4,000 sessions of care and support has been provided to over 680 people. So we're already seeing the benefits in Launceston and the surrounding community of the Head to Health service here.

KING: Okay, so how do facilities like this fit into the broader federal plan on mental health care?

MCBRIDE: What we saw in the Productivity Commission Report into Mental Health was that there was a really big shortfall in services for someone experiencing more moderate to severe mental ill-health. So someone who needed more care and support then an individual session with a psychologist, but didn't meet the threshold to be admitted to a hospital, like I used to work, in the acute adult inpatient unit. So it's to really to fill that shortfall. And we're building on the work of the previous government because mental health in Australia has always been treated in a bipartisan way, as it should be. It's just far too important.

KING: Well, I'm glad you've mentioned that because we did talk with our local member Bridget Archer a number of times during the life of the last government about the centre and its development and she herself, talked about her own anxiety issues and having a bit of a panic attack at one point and the importance of a centre like this. Why can we get a bipartisan approach on this but not other things?

MCBRIDE: Well, I think it's a good example where you can see across the Parliament, MPs and Senators working together and I'm really pleased Bridget's going to be along today for the official opening.

KING: How marvelous.

MCBRIDE: It is, and it demonstrates to the community, I think, you know, they might take question time and think, “that's how Parliament works,” but really, a lot of the work that we do, whether it's through committees or work in the community is in genuine collaboration. So I'm pleased to be continuing this work of the former government and delighted that Bridget is going to be there today.

KING: So a centre like this, what exactly can they assist with? When you go into Head to Health what sort of things are available there?

MCBRIDE: One of the real benefits of Head to Health is that you don't need a referral, you don't necessarily need an appointment, and it's free of charge. And you'll be able to walk in and be met by a peer worker you'll be able to be seen by a social worker or a mental health nurse who will be able to do an assessment and perhaps offer some treatment within the Head to Health centre or refer you on to the service that most meets your needs. And we know that this service has been done in partnership with Stride, and also there's really strong collaborations with lots of other health care providers locally, so that you'll be able to be either treated at the Head to Health centre or warmly handed over to the most appropriate service that suits your needs.

KING: Are there are a number of centres like this?

MCBRIDE: There are, the one in Launceston was one of the first eight that were part of a national pilot. I've had the chance to visit the one in Geelong just last week and see the difference that it's making the local community there and also to see one, or officially open one, that is up and running now in Civic in Canberra. There's also wanting in Penrith as well. So there's eight that were part of the initial pilot and I'm pleased to let you know, you're listeners know, that there'll be more for Tasmania, probably by the October or towards the end of this year. We'll see services in Burnie and Devonport and in outer Hobart as well.

KING: Right. So exactly like this pilot program we're seeing here in Launceston. There'll be other rolling out of services?

MCBRIDE: Yes, we've seen that this pilot has been very effective from the example we've seen in Launceston where we've already had those 4,000 sessions of care. We know that it works well. The other really good thing about this model is that it's tailored to suit the local community. So in this case, it's through the Tasmanian Primary Health Network, and the partner Stride and what it can be designed to do, is tailored to meet the individual needs of the local community, which I think is what makes it so effective.

KING: What else can be done in this space at the moment what else do we, can we work on and expect to see?

MCBRIDE: This is something that in my role as the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, something that I'm working really hard on and listening to local communities. What we know is that local place-based community led responses, particularly in mental health and suicide prevention, are really effective. So it's looking at how we can as a federal government through funding through the Primary Health Networks, support local service providers, clinicians, to be able to boost their capacity and their resources to meet the needs of communities, because we know with COVID that there is a long lag in mental health and suicidal ideation. So it's really important that we make the right investment, to have the right services, at the right place that meet the needs of individual communities.

KING: Of course in Tassie and like literally everywhere else in Australia, there are many different issues plaguing the health system. So again, why can we get a bipartisan approach on this, but not other areas?

MCBRIDE: I think it's something that as I said, you know, I'm really delighted that we're picking up the work of the former government here. And I agree with you, as someone who has worked in health and regional health for all of my working life until this job, what our community expects to see and wants to see is the Government and the Opposition working together, and other tiers of government working together as well. We've seen that recently in Tasmania, where the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was here with Health Minister Mark Butler and with your Premier where they've now announced this single employer model, where Tasmania GP Registrars can opt in to be employed directly by the Tasmanian Government so that they can have a portability of entitlements and a longer placement in general practice which we know good quality placements and portability entitlements, we've seen it work elsewhere, will lead to more GPs working in regional and remote communities.

KING: A big topic here in Tasmania at the moment is public spending more generally, especially as we in the midst of the debate here about a football stadium versus healthcare and we we've got people seeing hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps going into a stadium where they would rather see it perhaps going into more health services. Where do you sit on that at the moment? How do you think the spending can play out so that both can be satisfied, or should we be moving everything into the one basket?

MCBRIDE: I understand that the Infrastructure Minister Catherine King is in conversations with the Tasmanian Government at the moment and that the Prime Minister has said that they're considering options for the stadium through the Budget process. Also, I understand that this would be part of a broader community revitalisation, and I think that's where we can see, you know, the real sort of benefits. Were through the investment in something like you know, a stadium, an AFL stadium, we see all of the other investment that that attracts and the benefits to the community nearby. So the lens I'd look at it through is, what does this mean for broader community benefit, including the local economy and revitalising the local community?

KING: So that doesn't necessarily have to be at the detriment of the health services?

MCBRIDE: No, I think governments can do many things at one time, and that's what the community expects of them. So I think it's really important though, budgets are about priorities, and I'm sure see more as we work through the budget process up to May.

KING: So what's next under this banner, the Head to Health banner.

MCBRIDE: So Head to Health are now part of a national rollout. There's been another investment of over $600 million for the expansion of the network, which will see a total of 32 Head to Health’s. Where some of those are a Head to Health center, like we'll see today in Launceston, and others are satellites or outreach services. What I've seen so far is in individual communities, how they've been set up and run. So what I saw in Penrith was quite different to what I saw in Civic in Canberra, and different again to what I saw in Geelong. So I'm really pleased to see how this model in rolling out, will really be tailored to meet the needs of local communities and their individual challenges.

KING: Okay, so if people need those services, they are there for them to walk in without referral and to seek treatment.

MCBRIDE: That's exactly right. So someone can come in if they want even information or advice. Someone can come in crisis and distress. They're free of charge, no appointment necessary, and no referral. And I'm pleased to see the uptake that we've had so far and I know with this new permanent place, and I also believe that coming soon in March will be extended hours. So people will be able to go there between five to nine in the evening, and on Saturday and Sunday afternoon as well because we know mental health crisis don't happen nine to five and we need to make sure that those services are available after hours and across the weekend.

KING: Emma McBride, thank you very much and have a good day in Tassie.

MCBRIDE: Thank you so much, it's been such a pleasure to be with you.

KING: Thank you very much and Assistant Minister Emma McBride with us and the Head of Health service is opening up officially today and we're looking forward to seeing more services rolled out around the Northwest Coast and Hobart way in the coming months.

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