Tasmania’s child and adolescent mental health service still struggling a year on from review – ABC News

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A Tasmanian mother has described the state’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) as “a joke” after she was told there was no psychologist on staff in the region to help her son.

The woman’s 16-year-old son was referred to CAMHS by his paediatrician and GP earlier this year, but was knocked back because “there is no indication of complex mental illness” and “CAMHS does not currently have a psychologist employed”.

The letter to the teenager’s GP recommended a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and suggested finding a psychologist outside of the public service — an incredibly challenging task, his mother said, in Tasmania’s north-west.

Earlier this year, Devonport psychologist Kristine Bull told the ABC she and other specialists could not keep up with demand.

It is understood CAMHS has since employed a psychologist in the north-west.

But the boy’s mother said her experience trying to access support through CAMHS was not good enough.

“The whole reason we went to CAMHS was after seeing an online psychologist who suggested my son see someone face-to-face due to his complex disabilities and medical conditions, [and] the local psychologists are full with very long wait lists under mental health plans,” she said.

“In my son’s case, he is heavily affected in his everyday life.

Rebecca White looks teary as she speaks to the media
Opposition Leader Rebecca White says Labor wants mental health workers in all schools in Tasmania.(ABC News: Daniel Yeomans)

The boy was then placed on a category 2 waiting list to see a psychologist at the North West Regional Hospital. 

CAMHS is funded to support children and teenagers with severe and complex mental health difficulties as well as their families or caregivers.

The state government has committed to reforming the broader system — but workers say they need support to keep up with demand now, and recruitment is key.

In the state’s south alone, the service received 90 new referrals in July, about 80 in August and another 80 in September.

There are about eight case managers on a full-time equivalent basis in the same region.

Health and Community Services Union state secretary Tim Jacobson said it was disappointing little had changed on the ground since a damning review of the service was released more than one year ago.

“What we need are people. We need clinicians to deal with the demand that’s in the system.”

Regional health seeking a boost
The teenager was placed on a wait list to see a psychologist at the North West Regional Hospital.

A Tasmanian Health Service spokesman said work was underway on several initiatives aimed at improving the service.

He said the author of the review into CAMHS, Professor Brett McDermott, had since been appointed the service’s statewide clinical director, that existing services were being reviewed, and that recruitment for the CAMHS perinatal service was ongoing.

Labor leader Rebecca White said fixing the system should be a matter of priority.

“It’s about early intervention and prevention too, which is very critical, and why we’d like to see mental health workers in all schools in Tasmania.”

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