The plan for four new youth mental health beds at Northern Beaches Hospital has been dropped.

The news came following an announcement yesterday (Thursday, 22 February) by NSW Minister for Water, Housing, Homelessness, Mental Health, Youth and North Coast Rose Jackson. Declaring that the previously announced commitment to four mental health beds at Northern Beaches Hospital was ‘not feasible’, Minister Jackson instead announced a revised plan of improvements for youth mental health services on the Northern Beaches.

Rose Jackson

Rose Jackson

“It is deeply disappointing that the former government made a commitment to a four-bed adolescent mental health and drug and alcohol unit without any robust needs assessment or study.

“The current NSW Government remains committed to bolstering mental health support for young people. We hear the concerns of the community and have broadly consulted with stakeholders to deliver increased child and youth mental health services for the Northern Beaches.

“To be clear, this is just the start of the conversation. As we implement these changes and prepare for the impending round table to discuss next steps, we remain committed to keeping clear lines of communication open.

“Our focus is to ensure we are doing everything we can to provide accessible support for those experiencing a mental health crisis. We can’t have vulnerable people in a position of not knowing where to turn and what help is available to them,” said Minister Jackson.

The new plan for service delivery that Minister Jackson announced includes:

  • $939k to establish a ‘safe haven’ at the Brookvale Community Health Centre
  • $472k to improve the Northern Beaches PACER (Police, Ambulance & Clinician Early Response) team that responds to mental health crisis incidents
  • $1.45m for the Northern Sydney Local Health District to address child and youth mental health and substance abuse comorbidity, including a service based at Northern Beaches Hospital
  • Continuation of the ‘interim’ model established for acute youth mental health inpatient treatment at Northern Beaches Hospital that was established following the original announcement
  • Increased reporting and monitoring obligations to be placed on Northern Beaches Hospital ‘to address the concerns raised regarding accountability in the Hospital’
Dr Sophie Scamps at Northern Beaches Hospital

A public brawl erupted in September last year when Mackellar MP Dr Sophie Scamps (image above) called for the resignation of Northern Beaches Hospital CEO Andrew Newton and replacement of the hospital management.

“At a time when we have a youth mental health crisis on the Northern Beaches, it’s simply not good enough that the management at the Northern Beaches Hospital haven’t even committed to a timeline for these beds.

“Enough is enough. These beds should be operational by Christmas, and if they’re not — the management at the Hospital should be replaced,” said Dr Scamps last September.

The dispute resulted in the intervention of Minister Jackson, who demanded answers regarding the failure of the beds to be delivered. The result of that process can now be revealed, with blame being laid at the feet of former Member for Wakehurst and NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

According to an official NSW Government briefing document seen by the Northern Beaches Advocate, the $11.4m funding announcement was made during the lead up to the 2023 NSW Election without consultation with the Northern Sydney Local Health District or Healthscope, the private operator of Northern Beaches Hospital.

Northern Beaches Hospital Emergency Department

The official document, which was sourced from Minister Jackson’s office, also revealed that because of the nature of the relationship in place with Healthscope to operate Northern Beaches Hospital, the NSW Government could not compel them to deliver the promised services.

“There was no funding for the capital to execute the build and Healthscope clearly indicated they couldn’t deliver within the scope of the commitment. As a private hospital, it was not possible for the NSW Government to direct their operations in the same way we would a hospital run directly by an LHD (Local Health District),” said the official NSW Government document.

The statement exposes a worrying lack of transparency inherent in resource allocation within the LHD. As has been previously reported, the originally promised funding was inadequate for Northern Beaches Hospital to provide the physical space to deliver the promised youth mental health beds without compromising other services.

The official statement reveals that in an LHD operated hospital, such as Mona Vale or Royal North Shore, other services could be compromised to deliver such an underfunded promise. In this case, that was revealed by the private operator declining to provide the services for the inadequate funding on offer.

Mona Vale Hospital

In response to a question to Minister Jackson’s office about why the four youth mental health beds could not be provided at Mona Vale Hospital given their comments about LHD hospitals, a spokesperson for the Minister said it had been investigated but that the hospital did not meet the necessary criteria.

The Northern Beaches Advocate questioned this response with the Minister’s spokesperson given the ‘supporting’ role of Mona Vale Hospital within the LHD and existing services already provided on the campus. Physical capacity already exists at Mona Vale, with the drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit closed in December 2022.

Scamps reveals health policy

Mackellar MP Dr Sophie Scamps welcomed the announcement, saying it came after ‘genuine engagement’ by the Minister’s office. She said the measures would focus on using available resources to best effect, but remained critical of Northern Beaches Hospital for their ‘refusal’ to deliver the new mental health beds.

“I am very grateful to the Minister for Mental Health Rose Jackson for consulting with stakeholders and genuinely trying to find alternative ways to deliver better youth mental health services for our community.

“In particular, I am pleased to see the government has allocated funds to enhance the Northern Beaches PACER program. This program ensures that a mental health professional is involved in the response by police to acute mental health incidents.

“However, it is disappointing that more than two years after the former NSW Government announced funding for a four-bed youth mental health unit, the Northern Beaches Hospital management has refused to provide the services.

“This raises a bigger question about whether this private hospital model is in our community’s interest. I am deeply concerned about the arrangements and I will await the outcome of the NSW audit into the hospital with great interest,” said Dr Scamps.

Michael Regan

Member for Wakehurst Michael Regan (image above) said the ‘safe haven’ would allow mental health services to be better provided in the community, echoing Dr Scamps’ concerns about the private operation of Northern Beaches Hospital.

“Parents and young people on the Northern Beaches will have more options and better support when dealing with mental health crises. This is a very good thing. The Minister and her staff are to be commended for their approach to this issue.

“The Safe Haven model has been proven to be effective around the state and I am so glad that we will now have this accessible effective service operating in Brookvale.

“Keeping kids out of hospital where possible and treating them in the community should be our top priority, and this announcement significantly improves access to support, through our public NSW Health system.

“Tragically, we have very high demand for youth mental health services on the Northern Beaches. I will keep advocating for increased capacity locally, to help more kids and families and support our front-line health staff.

“I eagerly await the findings of the NSW Audit Office performance audit of Northern Beaches Hospital, which will commence soon. We need more scrutiny of this privately owned and run hospital so we can know if it is meeting public needs, including for acute youth mental health presentations,” said Mr Regan.

Steggall re-election bid

Warringah MP Zali Steggall OAM (image above), who also expressed her gratitude for the delivery of a ‘safe haven’ youth mental health service in her federal electorate at Brookvale, was ‘disappointed’ at the failure to deliver on the four promised youth mental health beds at Northern Beaches Hospital.

“It’s a sad truth, that we are in the midst of a mental health and suicide crisis on the Northern Beaches, particularly amongst our young people.

“Whilst I welcome the NSW Government announcement of the Brookvale Community Health Centre — a mental health first responder program, and a liaison service for young people with serious mental health, drug and alcohol issues across the Northern Sydney Local Health District, I am disappointed that the Northern Beaches community won’t have the four adolescent mental health beds originally promised.

“Under the current circumstances, which saw public funds allocated without an outcome for the last 18 months, an audit of the Northern Beaches Hospital will be an important first step in determining how the hospital can better support the Northern Beaches community.

“Young people and their families in the Northern Beaches who are dealing with mental health concerns deserve the appropriate support at the time they need it. I have been speaking with NSW Minister Rose Jackson and NSW Health about the importance of this issue and the need to ensure all committed funding remains allocated to mental health services on the Northern Beaches as this would make an important difference in the treatment and support of mental health in our area,” said Ms Steggall.

Northern Beaches Hospital

With the plans for the four youth mental health beds now confirmed to be cancelled, Minister Jackson committed to a ‘stakeholder round table’ that will decide how a remaining $4.5m of unallocated funding from the originally promised $11.4m will be spent.

Dr Scamps, Ms Steggall and Mr Regan have all been named by Minister Jackson’s office as part of the stakeholder group. None of their Northern Beaches counterparts — Manly MP James Griffin, Davidson MP Matt Cross, or Pittwater MP Rory Amon — have been included in the group.

When asked, all three Liberal MPs confirmed they were unaware of the announcement before it was made by the Labor Government, despite Mr Amon having written to Minister Jackson, with a hand signed reply advising she would ‘soon be able to provide further advice’. The Brookvale Community Health Centre is in Mr Griffin’s electorate of Manly.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate

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