ACSO, the government’s drug, alcohol and mental health intake, assessment and referral agency, based in Traralgon, didn’t exactly cover itself in glory at last week’s ice forum in Wonthaggi.
After being featured on the front page of the ‘Sentinel-Times’ the previous week as the key player in a ‘system failure’ where the response to ice is concerned, an officer from ACSO really only confirmed the agency is delivering a sub-par service.
To give him credit, after such public criticism of his agency, at least the Regional AOD Assessor from ACSO, Brendan Witt, was prepared to speak at the forum and provide some first-hand information but it wasn’t all good news.
While he didn’t acknowledge what local ice addicts and health professionals have told us, that it can take up to four weeks to get a referral to a drug counsellor, psychiatrist or other professional service; he said the following:
“We can have them linked in within a seven day to two-week period,” Mr Witt said.
“If they are assessed as Tier 5 (the highest level of need) we can get them in within 48 hours,” he told a packed Wonthaggi Arts Centre audience.
In other words, the worst affected drug addict, the most severely impacted alcoholic or troubled mental health client might not get to see anyone for two days; despite there being appointments and health professionals available locally or elsewhere to see them, often immediately.
It’s no surprise then that the chairman of the Prime Minister’s National Ice Taskforce, Ken Lay, made a point of saying that “we need to improve access to our primary care services” during his opening address at the ice forum.
Local health professionals say the introduction of another level of bureaucracy by the previous State Government has been a backward step and the State Mental Health Minister Martin Foley agrees with them and is in the process of making changes.
He said the previous government “botched the process and people struggling with alcohol and drug issues are paying the price”.
Mr Witt confirmed that ACSO offers a ‘walk-up service’ at Bass Coast Health in Wonthaggi on Thursday afternoons from 2pm.
He said the idea of ACSO was that clients only needed to tell their story and provide their details once in the initial interview, either over the phone or face-to-face, and these details would be made available to the health professionals in their treatment plan.
For those in need of help, ACSO can be contacted on 1300 022 760 or via the web on www.acso.org.au