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An innovative, local perinatal mental health partnership has been awarded at Government House

An innovative and flexible approach to perinatal care for parents, families and children under the age of two has been developed out of a need for services in the local area where previously none existed. The New England Medicare Local in partnership with the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health and St John of God Health Care’s Raphael Centre in Blacktown, have been invited to Government House in Sydney.

The team will today be (Tuesday October 1), presented with a Mental Health Matters Award for their joint initiative in the development of the Early Years Outreach Clinic (EYOC).The award category recognised excellence and innovation in programs, that focus on preventing mental health problems through encouraging people to seek help early.

The clinic has been a work in progress for the past two years. It was designed to put in place early intervention programs for rural families allowing greater access to services that were previously only available in Sydney or Brisbane. The EYOC offers assistance to women experiencing a range of emotional issues during their pregnancy and afterwards including symptoms of depression, grief and loss and anxiety.

New England Medicare Local’s clinical team, located in Tamworth, is inter-professional in nature with clinicians from backgrounds of mental health nursing, social work, psychology and occupational therapy. They work to provide the clinic together with a bi-monthly specialist clinic supported by Professor Barnett, a Child and Infant Psychiatrist from St John of God, Sydney. The working relationship between the SJOG specialist perinatal team and clinician’s at NEML has developed mutually to promote the development of clinical skills and service promotion and planning.

In addition a key focus has been to provide support to other health professionals referring to the EYOC including midwives, child and family nurses and General Practitioners. This includes frequent supervision and training sessions which includes the use of telemedicine to link into SJOG.

A key strength to the development of the service has been the ongoing commitment of those originally involved in the Perinatal Working Party to work consistently to maintain the progress of the EYOC. Developing networks and care pathways were some of the initial work undertaken in establishing the service and this has continued to expand as the numbers of referrals have increased.

The response to the service so far has been positive and effective linkages between service providers across the area have resulted in more timely and appropriate referrals. Referrals have included indigenous families with a small percentage of fathers having also accessed the service.

New England Medicare Local’s Southern Network Coordinator of Clinical Services, Anne Galloway, said the EYOC’s unique early intervention model assists women identified as having a mild to moderate risk to deal with stress and mental health related problems at the earliest stage in their pregnancy.

“The aim is to reduce the impact of these issues for families, but through working with the pregnant mother, the impact of stress on neonatal development can be reduced,” she said.

In the coming months the program will be expanded by New England Medicare Local, into Armidale and Narrabri, where the need for similar perinatal care has been identified.

“The benefit of having these clinics and providing this type of early intervention and care through the EYOC is that more health professionals are aware of the screening tools and how to use them. We are able to identify people who need that help earlier, providing assistance before it gets to a point where women would require that higher level of care,” Ms Galloway said.

The University of Newcastle Department Of Rural Health’s Mental Health Academic team leader, Fiona Little, said outcomes from the last 18 month evaluation of the EYOC showed more than 150 families had been referred to the service. This makes up 13 per cent of mental health referrals seen within the Tamworth New England Medicare Local Mental Health Service.

“Wait time to access intervention has been consistently low with 75 per cent of referrals seen within two weeks,” she said.

“General Practitioners referred 69 per cent of clients to the service however 20 per cent were from midwives and child and family nurses.

“The clinical outcome measures of those referred showed a positive shift in symptoms for all clients who completed treatment with the service.”

Spin offs from the clinic have included the Tamworth based “Mummy Matters” support group.

Established almost two years ago with initial support and education from the New England Medicare Local clinical team, the group began as another way to offer new mums who were struggling with practical and emotional support. Mummy Matters runs a face to face support group every 3rd Monday.

The funds awarded to New England Medicare Local, as a result of winning the Mental Health Matters Award, will be directed to support the Mummy Matters Group
Note: Mental Health Matters Awards are presented in Mental Health Month, October, each year. More information can be found at