According to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, one in five Australians will experience a mental health disorder no matter where they live, but people living in remote areas of the country have access to fewer than half of the services that are available to people living in our cities.
To further understand this urgent need for mental health services and possible solutions, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) and MinterEllison plan to combine their skills and carry out research in rural and remote Queensland to better understand the success of mental health services.
The vast distances patients must travel to access mental health services is only one of the challenges they face. Other barriers include a hesitancy to access help, apprehensions due to stigma and cultural barriers.
"Regardless of where you live, all Australians need appropriate and readily accessible health care. Mental health is no different," said Trent Dean, Head of Clinical Governance for the RFDS in Queensland. "A better understanding of what’s working in rural areas is needed if we are to improve the mental health of those living outside of the city."
Between 1 July 2013 – June 2016, over 2,500 patients across the country were flown by the RFDS as part of an aeromedical retrieval for a mental health disorder.
"By combining RFDS and MinterEllison skills we will be changing the way success is measured through qualitative insights," said Mr Dean. "Quantitative findings don’t always tell the whole story, as patients often don’t feel comfortable having formal conversations and talking about their experiences and whether it has been of benefit."
"The insights we hope to gain will help provide a case for more long-term funding certainty and help to appropriately resource our communities with the help they need," said Shane Evans, Partner and leader of MinterEllison's national Health Industry group. "Continuity of funding and consistent patient-focused support is key, and that’s where these insights come in extremely useful, as our qualitative findings will help to understand what good service looks like."
"What we have found so far is that service providers need to spend a lot of time being present in the community, sometimes visiting every member of that community to establish trust," Mr Dean says. "There is so much work behind the scenes in delivery of mental health services in rural Australia, such as time spent on properties or in informal settings, to build relationships and outcomes that can’t be easily logged or captured in quantitative measures…. Statistics are important but they are never going to tell you the full story, or even part of it, as so much of it is hidden and below the surface."
"Once we understand what is required in terms of mental health resourcing we will need to be able to develop the frameworks which will make access and participation easy for people in the bush," said Fiona Glendinning, MinterEllison's Chief Experience Officer. "We’ve got a lot to offer in the way of access to experts, and it’s something very special to use our expertise to create better outcomes for regional communities and the RFDS."
Initial findings will be discussed at the 2019 Patient Experience Symposium in Sydney, with the intention to use the discussion to investigate funding of services.