Mentally ill children are reportedly being sedated and transferred to the coast in air ambulances because Tamworth lacks a single acute mental health bed for children, and with health bureaucrats dismissing a unit for them as not cost effective.
That's according to Rural Doctors' Association President John Hall, who said the practice doesn't save money.
"Often severely unwell mental health patients need to be sedated for air transfer and retrieval. This is essentially placing them in an induced coma and carries risks for the patient and the retrieval team," he said.
"This is why retrieval services are often reluctant to transfer and the process is involved and costly."
Some 66 patients with a diagnosis of a mental health illness were transferred out of the New England region, 50 of them from the Tamworth hospital, in a single year to May 2019.
The statistics do not identify how many were children, but most patients in the region are adults.
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson slammed that logic this month.
The "situation is dire" in local mental health care, he said - and he is still pushing for a child and adolescent unit to be added to the new Banksia unit.
Dr Hall said "mental health retrievals" were both risky and costly, and were often conducted just to shift the cost of providing a service from primary health care institutions to retrieval units.
"The other thing that's often not considered is the social and economic cost on the family," he said.
"Then you've got a whole family that often has to drive to Newcastle or Sydney, and spend weeks at a time away from home. Mental health admissions are not commonly short-term admissions.
"It has a significant impact on the community and it would be a net positive impact on the local community to invest in services locally."
Tamworth has just a single specialist child and adolescent psychiatrist, who works a day or two a fortnight.
Many parents have complained a lack of specialist psychiatry locally has prevented them from getting treatment, or even diagnosis, for their mentally ill children.
Mental health advocate Helen Jones said she'd spoken to a number of people who'd had children in Nexus.
"People have to pay to go there. What I mean by that is they have to get fuel in their car, and we've already got people who struggle if they're from Moree or somewhere to come over to Tamworth. Transport costs are an issue. What if you're down there with one child but you've got three or four other children to look after or you need to work? It's not going to work," she said.
"I want to know why it is that we are continually told in the bush that we've got to get second rate bloody services? We feed the nation, we supply most of the food and we're supposed to say it's okay we've got nowhere for our kids or grandkids that need help."
Dr Hall said health administrators could provide a specialist children's service using regular psychiatrists working through telehealth, even if they couldn't immediately attract a specialist.
Some 382 children and adolescents presented at a hospital in the New England between 2015 and 2019, according to Banksia planning documents.
Hunter New England Health were contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline.
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