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Wednesday, 26 March 2003
Page: 13623

Ms HALL (7:30 PM) —The Partners of Veterans are a very active group of women who have a very high profile in Shortland electorate. These women are fighting battles for their partners, their children and themselves. Most of the women have partners who are Vietnam veterans and who still have significant problems. The most difficult and serious of these problems relates to psychiatric disorders that were caused by their involvement in the Vietnam War. The Partners of Veterans fight for their partners to receive the treatment and support they need whilst at the same time fighting for their own sanity and even safety in many cases. The issue that concerns them above all is access to mental health care, both emergency access and ongoing access.

To illustrate the problem that faces these veterans, I would like to refer to one particular lady and her husband who live in Shortland electorate. Last year this veteran actually cut his throat and was bleeding profusely. He was taken to the local hospital, where he was given the emergency treatment that was needed to stop the bleeding and to stabilise his medical condition. After that, he was taken into the local public psychiatric hospital, where he was subsequently released because the services that were offered there really did not meet his needs. In an email to me, his wife pointed out that, while the treatment that he had at Belmont Hospital was not pleasant, it was at least the kind of emergency treatment that could be expected. He wanted to go Lingard Private Hospital, which has been identified as a hospital that provides psychiatric help for veterans, but was advised that he could not be accepted there. The only other option was James Fletcher Hospital, which is an excellent psychiatric hospital but has a very bad name among local veterans simply because of the nature of the patients that are there—patients who have illnesses that are totally unrelated to the illnesses that veterans have. Veterans are very fearful of being there. They are put in contact with very sick people. The doctor at the local psychiatric hospital actually pointed out to the veteran that it was not the place for him. In the end, he was taken home and had to find alternative treatment.

I think it is really important to point out that there has to be something available for veterans in this emergency situation. I approached the minister about this, and she pointed out to me that the Lingard Private Hospital is approved to provide services to veterans when they suffer from psychiatric illnesses. It is a fine hospital—I have no criticism whatsoever of any of the hospitals I am speaking about tonight—but the thing is that Lingard Hospital operates and provides that service between nine and five. It will not accept emergency admissions. It is understaffed. It is not properly funded. The veterans in the area do not trust the service that they are offered there. There is a real gap in services. There are no emergency services or emergency beds for veterans, and there is no ongoing support for them. There is a real need to ensure that veterans have access to adequate mental health care services in the Hunter. They have got to go either to Taree, where there is an excellent service, or to Sydney. It is not good enough. It is really disadvantaging and putting at risk the families of veterans. I would like the minister to act now to resolve this problem. (Time expired)