Rural children with developmental issues at higher risk of going to jail, health inquiry hears

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A New South Wales parliamentary inquiry has heard confronting evidence that delays in helping rural children with developmental issues can lead to them ending up in jail.

Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health has given evidence about the long waiting times patients experience in getting appointments outside of Sydney. 

The service’s president Edward Johnson is a speech pathologist and he told the inquiry it can take up to two years for some children to be seen. 

“It’s an incredibly long time, if we’re not getting to kids before they’re five-year-olds, it’s incredibly hard to remediate,” Dr Johnson said.

The Upper House committee heard this delay could lead to problems with reading, socialising, and disengaging from school. 

“They’re not attending, they’re getting involved in the criminal justice system, there are mental health implications as well,” Dr Johnson said.

A children draws and looks at a speech pathologistA children draws and looks at a speech pathologist
The NSW parliamentary inquiry has been told it can take years for children in remote, rural and regional areas to access early intervention.(ABC News: Nicole Chettle)

Today’s hearing also heard evidence from the Australian Lawyers’ Alliance, which said there was a disproportionate number of adverse medical outcomes in remote, rural and regional communities compared with metropolitan areas. 

It said there was a higher incidence of avoidable deaths and significant injuries outside of Sydney because of a lack of health services.

Man looks over a young cropMan looks over a young crop
The Australian Lawyers’ Alliance has told the inquiry that limited access to mental health services in remote, rural and regional NSW is a major issue.(ABC Kimberley: Chris Lewis)

The alliance’s Catherine Henry told the inquiry that these problems were caused by systemic issues. 

“Of particular concern is the fact that people in regional and rural NSW don’t have the same access to mental health services,” Ms Henry said. 

“Staffing is not as it should be, communication is not as it should be, junior doctors are not being supervised properly.

“Almost every case I’ve ever seen involves an avoidable medical accident.”

The inquiry heard that the Hunter New England Local Health District had a high rate of negligence cases involving mental health. 

COVID discrimination

Today’s hearing also focused on the mental health of people in towns that experienced COVID-19 outbreaks throughout 2021. 

Aboriginal support group Just Reinvest told the Upper House committee that Indigenous people were wrongly blamed for the local emergence of the virus. 

Spokeswoman Jenny Lorvic said many residents wrongly believed Moree’s first case originated at a local funeral, but the virus had actually been detected in the town’s sewage beforehand. 

A long line of cars on a road leading to a small white tent.A long line of cars on a road leading to a small white tent.
Misinformation about the source of Moree’s COVID-19 outbreak meant Aboriginal people experienced discrimination.(ABC News)

Ms Lorvic also used her evidence to highlight the lack of detox services in Moree. 

People with drug and alcohol dependencies must travel up to four hours to Armidale or Tamworth to seek help before they are eligible for rehabilitation services in Moree. 

“Leaving family, leaving your country, leaving your support network to go and detox only adds a further layer and a burden of stress on a person who is already clearly in a stressful situation,” Ms Lorvic said.  

The inquiry continues.