Kelly in the Media

Kelly Vincent – 5AA Interview on Transforming Health and the Education Select Committee

On 6th October 2015, Dignity for Disability MLC Kelly Vincent was interviewed on radio station 5AA to discuss concerns about Transforming Health, in particular the proposal to relocate spinal injury services and the lack of discussion around mental health in Transforming Health documentation. Kelly Vincent also discussed her work on the Select Committee on Disability and Access to Education. Here is the transcript from the interview.

Andrew Reimer: Dignity for Disability MLC Kelly Vincent, will give us a bit of an update about some of the goings on that she’s been dealing with over the past week or so. Kelly, welcome to the program. I hear you’re not necessarily very happy with what’s going on as far as the way, the State Government’s handling situations with our hospitals and for the people of the western suburbs of our city.

Kelly Vincent: Absolutely, you and I have talked on a number of occasions Andrew about some issues to do with the Transforming Health proposal, a swooping reform of the healthcare system in South Australia. There’s been a lot of concerns about this.
Most recently Dignity for Disability has been hearing concerns from Paraquad SA, which is the peak body representing people who are either paraplegic or quadriplegic, mostly through spinal cord injuries. What they’re hearing basically is that once the spinal injury services move from Hampstead to the QEH under Transforming Health there’s apparently not going to be any physical education gymnasium. Physical education gymnasium is basically a very specialist gym where people can regain strength that they used to have in their muscles, which is important for their ongoing rehab. They also learn new skills that they’re going to need to live with whatever disabilities they might acquire as a result of their injury. They could be learning to use muscles differently to transfer in and out of a car, or to use a wheelchair effectively. It’s very concerning that there’s apparently going to be no physical education gymnasium at the new QEH unit for spinal cord injuries. Let’s face it Andrew this does boil down to an economic concern. We should be worried about people recovering their physical health as well, but ultimately if people can’t learn the skills that they need to live with a disability, especially after an injury, and they don’t regain muscle strength and things like that then they’re very likely to have to rely on taxpayer dollars in the form of disability support – support workers and things like that. So there is that economic angle to this as well.

Andrew Reimer: It’s all economic, the reason for the cutbacks. What’s the Government’s response to this?

Kelly Vincent: Well interestingly we’ve had a few spokespeople for the Transforming Health proposal come out in the media in the last couple of days and tell us that actually there’s going to be some form of physical education facilities on every ward, if I’m getting that correctly. If that is true then, fantastic because certainly Paraquad SA were promised that they wouldn’t get anything less than what they have now so they’re certainly expecting something better. Having a physical education facility on every ward would be better, but again as with so many proposals under Transforming Health, why aren’t these being explained? Why wasn’t it obvious that there’s going to be a gym on every ward if that is the case? And so we do wonder if this is actually going to happen or if it’s now the Government just back peddling. As I say, if it is going to happen that’s fantastic but we absolutely do need this explained. Especially to peak bodies like Paraquad because they are the peak body representing people with spinal cord injury and if they can’t explain it to their consumers how is anyone else going to understand it? So we absolutely do need the Government to come out and explain what it is that’s actually going to happen if these services transfer from Hampstead to the QEH and what that will look like for people particularly with a spinal cord injury.

Andrew Reimer: It doesn’t sound like it’s a hard question to answer. I don’t see why they haven’t come forward already with the actual clarification.

Kelly Vincent: You wouldn’t think it would be a difficult question to answer and unfortunately we have already seen some proposals from Transforming Health back peddled on. One example of course was the Flinders Medical Centre Neonatal unit. The Government planned to close that as part of Transforming Health and Dignity for Disability was very active in campaigning against that, not least of which because I was actually born there. And I absolutely believe that I wouldn’t have the independence and capabilities that I do now without that investment in those first few months of my life. And lo and behold the Government came out and said ‘actually, we’re not going to close that’ because it seemed like the data they were using to support that closure in terms of the number of babies that were going there was widely underestimated and inaccurate.
So we wonder if this is perhaps the case here again with the move with the spinal injury services to the QEH and whether the Government’s research on this is actually correct in terms of what the hospital can provide. Again, if it can provide everything it needs to and if there’s going to be physical education facilities on every ward, fantastic, but we need this explained and we need the everyday people to be able to understand the real impact this is going to have on services that they either require now or will require if they’re unfortunate enough to sustain a spinal cord injury.

Andrew Reimer: Well, World Mental Health Day is coming up. You were also concerned about the lack of focus that the State Government has and Transforming Health has when it comes to mental health.

Kelly Vincent: If you look at the Transforming Health documentation there are very few mentions of mental health and I think that is disappointing. It really speaks to the general conversation in our community about mental health where we tend not to talk about it as being a spectrum or being a constant in the same way that we do with physical health. We tend to only talk about mental health when it becomes poor or when it becomes negative. Unfortunately the Transforming Health documentation reflects that lack of holistic understanding of mental health. There is I think a lack of focus and documentation, and even the recommendations about mental health under the Transforming Health proposal are not necessarily ground breaking. For example one recommendation is that the Government is going to appoint a chief psychiatrist. That’s not anything revolutionary; that’s a pre-existing statutory office that exists already in our government so I’m confused as to why it’s put into the Transforming Health document as though it were something revolutionary.

So absolutely there does need to be a bigger focus on mental health and just this week I went to the fifth annual conference on borderline personality disorder. It’s a very misunderstood, very maligned mental health disorder which actually affects between 1 and 4% of the population. We’re not really talking about small numbers here, but again it gets even bigger when we consider that as many as 10% of people with a borderline personality disorder diagnosis will end their lives by a suicide. I think the reason that borderline personality disorder is very maligned, is we tend to think of it as something that is attention seeking behaviour. Dignity for Disability has been working for many years now on BPD trying to get the awareness up and get better services so that people can stop living their lives in this cycle of presenting to emergency departments. So Dignity for Disability has been working for many years to get some better services and support around people with BPD and we’ve recently been joined by Greens MLC, Tammy Franks, in calling for more specialised services for people with BPD to help them get out of this painful cycle. We’re now looking to continue that work working constructively with the medical profession and mental health workers to make sure that we can get the understanding out there that BPD isn’t just attention seeking behaviour. But even if people were just attention seeking, so what. We still need to address the reason why people seem to be living their lives in such anguish and distress that they’re constantly engaging in behaviours that are sometimes interpreted as attention seeking and I think that needs to be treated very seriously. So together with the Greens, Dignity for Disability will continue to push for more support for people with borderline personality disorder. We held a briefing just a few weeks ago in Parliament House where many Members of Parliament attended, Government Members included which was very pleasing. Unfortunately not the Minister for Health himself; I understand he was busy with another briefing himself that day, which I’m a bit cynical about. But I think gradually we will get the understanding needed to create that critical mass for a push in the right direction in terms of supporting people with all mental health challenges and particularly those with borderline personality disorder.

Andrew Reimer: We recently had the National Education Curriculum Conference which you spoke at on Thursday. Is your education committee still taking evidence as well?

Kelly Vincent: Yes, we are. The official closing date for submissions has technically closed but there is some flexibility around that because we understand that people are very busy. So you can still make either a written submission or request to give evidence in person to the committee as well if there’s any experience that you or that a child with disability has experienced in the education system. We’re looking particularly at how we can better support students with disabilities around achieving their best academic and social potential in all school systems; the public, private, Catholic, independent. But also looking to see what’s going right and what governments should be focusing on doing more of to properly support students with disabilities. Research shows that as many as one in four children with disabilities are either being denied enrolment at the school of their choice or they’re not able to attend school fulltime due to a lack of support resources. It’s clear that there are big issues out there and we’re keen to get to the bottom of them and I want to use peoples’ lived experience through these submissions to identify what’s going wrong and the practical ways forward. We’ve received about 50 submissions so far so that’s very positive that there’s a lot of interest in this and we’re still able to take submissions.

Andrew Reimer: Thank you very much for you time today Kelly. Keep up the good work.

Kelly Vincent: Thanks Andrew.