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SA speech pathologists saved from the axe

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SA Health has retreated from plans to cut speech pathologists from child and youth mental health teams after a staff consultation showed overwhelming opposition to the move.

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In February, SA Health announced a proposed restructure of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), which would see mergers of its eastern and western Adelaide offices, as well as its two southern offices, plus the removal of 4.5 full-time equivalent speech pathology positions from within the service.

CAMHS clinical director Dr Prue McEvoy told InDaily at the time that speech pathologists “can’t manage a person with mental health difficulties”.

“They can assist us in managing a young person with mental health difficulties, who might also have language difficulties, but they’re not able to do that primary work.”

However, SA Health has now decided to retain CAMHS speech pathologists.

McEvoy told InDaily this morning: “We had overwhelming support for speech pathologists as part of the mental health service.”

“The model that we were proposing was (only) for consultation.

“My opinion has not changed – what’s changed has been the way that we are going to use speech pathology.”

Instead of being cut from the service, speech pathologists will join the merged CAMHS teams and perform new outreach services.

“High-quality speech pathology (will) be targeted to children, young people and families experiencing the most complex or acute mental health issues in South Australia,” McEvoy said, adding that the planned closure of the CAMHS Enfield campus would still go ahead, with group therapy services there to be offered within schools instead.

“The Enfield site can’t provide an equitable (service) across the state,” she said.

“We needed to look at different models of care for young people, disengaged from education … so that we can provide the best tertiary level mental health service for babies, right through to pregnant mothers.”

The restructure will also create a centralised triage service, as the single point of entry into CAMHS and a single point of contact for families.

McEvoy said this would mean more consistent care for young people with mental illness, and better access to appropriate care.

In addition, a new “assertive mobile service” for young people who are “difficult to engage and at risk of slipping through the cracks” will be commissioned, as will a “lived experience officer” – someone with personal experience of mental illness – recruited to provide staff with better insight into clients’ needs.

The CAMHS eating disorder service will also be “strengthened”.

McEvoy said she hoped the restructure would also improve care for young people suffering borderline personality disorder.

As InDaily has regularly reported, BPD sufferers and their families often face extreme difficulty accessing appropriate care, and a stigma among some health professionals who believe the condition is untreatable causes additional harm.

The coroner is this week inquiring into 2013 death of 22-year-old Miranda Howard and the 2015 death of 18-year-old Aurora McPherson-Smith – both BPD sufferers – and systemic issues that prevent BPD sufferers accessing appropriate care.

SA Health will consult staff for two weeks on the revised plan before beginning implementation.

McEvoy said there would be no redundancies as a result of the changes.

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