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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 8 Hansard (26 October) . . Page.. 2107 ..

MRS CARNELL: Yes, it is the case, and it is certainly true that recently the mental health crisis team has experienced problems with recruiting suitably trained staff. In fact, that is the reason - - -

Mr Connolly: It is because of your freeze.

MRS CARNELL: No; that is the reason the mental health crisis team was exempted from the freeze all the way through.

Mr Connolly: After a struggle.

MRS CARNELL: No, all the way through. As I think you would remember, when I announced the freeze there were a number of areas, in nursing particularly, that we determined would not be part of the freeze, and areas such as psychiatric nursing, theatre nurses and so on were part of that. There are currently three vacancies in this area. These positions were advertised within the Department of Health and Community Care - in other words, they have been advertised - but unfortunately no applicants could be found. An advertisement for three nurses has been placed in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Age, and the Canberra Times for this weekend.

The department is continuing to make every effort to continue to provide this important service with minimal disruption and with due regard to occupational health and safety issues, which are very important. All emergency services were given over 24 hours' notice of the impending closure. Telephone calls from midnight on Wednesday, 25 October, to 8.00 am on 26 October were redirected to other appropriate services, to ensure that people did have access to an appropriate service if they were under pressure. Permanent staff on the crisis team have been working under enormous pressure and under very difficult circumstances for quite a long time; but, as Mr Connolly will be well aware, nurses with expertise in the mental health area are very difficult to get, which is the reason why, after advertising in the department, we could not find any starters whatsoever. We certainly do regret the closure last night, but I am confident that the procedures that were put in place and the quite long lead time on those procedures have caused minimal disruption to patients, and that is really the issue here.

MR CONNOLLY: I ask a supplementary question. I am staggered that it was the first time in four years that we have not had a mental health crisis team. I understand from staff that yesterday the on-duty crisis team during the day attended two situations which in their professional judgment were potential suicides. Mrs Carnell, what possible platitude or excuse could you have made if the closure of the mental health crisis service last night for the first time in four years had led to a tragedy, and how long will you be playing with people's lives with your health so-called reforms?

MRS CARNELL: I think I have already answered that question.

MR SPEAKER: Standing order 117(b) says that questions shall not contain hypothetical matters.

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