Fears  over lack of mental health services

A DIRE lack of mental health services in Cessnock and the Upper Hunter is leaving some people on the edge without help, according to Hunter Medicare Local.

Hunter Medicare Local, which represents general practitioners, conducted a needs assessment in the region. It found areas such as Cessnock, Scone and Muswellbrook had limited, if any, psychological and psychiatric services for children or adults.

Chief executive Mark Foster said for those needing public hospital care the nearest mental health unit was at Maitland Hospital.

While Hunter New England Health had community mental health teams, they were not enough to cope with demand and much of the work was left to charities.

The problem was compounded by a general lack of private psychologists in western parts of the region who might otherwise be able to take on public patients.

‘‘Areas like Cessnock are areas of disadvantage. We know they have high rates of all disease, that certainly includes mental health problems,’’ Dr Foster said.

‘‘They’re also less able to pay for private services.’’

The issue is topical because the federal government has opened up Medicare rebates for mental health plans and psychologist visits.

Dr Foster said he was hearing from GPs that they were writing mental health plans that patients could not fill because of a lack of services.

Hunter figures show medicos are writing mental health plans at a rate of 27 plans for every 1000 people each quarter.

‘‘It’s been a long-standing problem,’’ Dr Foster said.

He feared some people would take their own lives because of a lack of help.

‘‘We do know there are high rates of suicide in rural areas.’’ He said Hunter Medicare Local was lobbying for more resources, the extension of telehealth programs and schemes to recruit specialists to areas of need, but more funding was essential.

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