The NSW government is poised to fill a decades-old hole in mental health care in the New England and North West regions, which forces children to travel to Newcastle to receive care.
The state government has drawn up plans for four children's mental health beds in the new Banksia Mental Health Unit, plus premises for an outreach team which would bring juvenile care to children across the region.
The plans include four different options for expanding the new unit to cater to young people.
Original plans, and the unit's clinical services plan, did not accommodate long-term children's care at all.
Tamworth Mental Health Carers Support Group members Di and Don Wyatt, who have been campaigning for the new unit for four years, told the Leader the best was the fourth option, which would add two additional storeys to the building.
Not only would the plan add four child and adolescents beds for the first time, it would also co-locate the acute care with a Child and Adolescents Safeguard Team.
Funded in the 2021 state budget, the teams of about 12 to 15 specialist health staff are designed to travel to smaller towns, bringing care to communities rather than the other way around.
Children would also be segregated in their own part of the building, away from mentally ill adults.
"These kids are our future," Di Wyatt said.
"We've got to look after them. If we don't, our future's not good.
"I know there is a lot of kids out there who've got problems, I know that for a fact."
Mrs Wyatt said that co-locating the outreach and acute services teams in the same place would improve continuity of care.
Don Wyatt said he hopes the new services will bring to an end the practice of transporting children to Newcastle to receive acute mental health care.
"When they go from here they do not have their family support," he said.
"They need family support. In Nexus, you don't get it if your family's here."
The Wyatts said the project never would have got to this stage without the constant lobbying of Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson.
Mr Anderson told the Leader the upgrade wasn't yet a "done deal", but it was a service Tamworth needs.
"We need a separate child and adolescents mental health unit," he said.
"We want four beds so that we can provide that service for those who need it most in our community and we don't have to send them away."
The MP said he was also pushing forward option four to mental health minister Bronwyn Taylor and NSW Health.
"We're now having discussion about how to make that work," he said.
"I believe our communities need this. This is the option that our community has been calling for and this is the option I want to see implemented in Tamworth."
He said the building would held finally bring a full-time child and adolescent specialist psychiatrist to Tamworth.
"Despite indications that there's a shortage of clinical specialists, I believe you should build it with the capacity to attract specialists rather than say, like we're being told, than oh we don't have the clinical specialists so there's no need to build," he said.
"I flip that right around and say build it and they will come."
A decision is urgent. Both services will need to be part of a single build, which is due to start in 2022.
The original Banksia would have included two children's "pods" funded by the private sector, enabling 72 hours of observation prior to sending a patient to Newcastle's Nexus unit.
The upgrade will likely add millions to the cost of the new building, which is already budgeted to cost $45 million.
As part of the Tamworth Mental Health Carers' Support Group, the Wyatts are part of the co-design process for the new structure.
In 2018, they forced a vote in parliament on the facility by collecting 13,080 signatures. Mr Anderson committed to the upgrade before the 2019 state election.
It's the first health facility developed through co-design in NSW.
The state government budgeted to spend $109.5 million over four years on 25 Child and Adolescents Safeguard Teams across NSW. One will be based in Tamworth.
Tamworth's new mental health unit will contain 37 beds, 25 for adults, eight geriatric beds and four for children. Banksia currently contains 25 beds, all of them for adults. The city has a single specialist children's psychiatrist, who works a day and a half a fortnight.
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