New campus mental health strategy

St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s CEO, A/Prof Anthony Schembri AM, St Vincent’s Health Australia’s Chair, Paul Robertson AO, and NSW Minister for Mental Health, Bronwyn Taylor, at the launch of the hospital’s mental health strategy

When the Sisters of Charity opened St Vincent’s Sydney on its current Darlinghurst site in 1870, it’s said the first person through the door was a mental health patient.

Fast forward almost 150 years, and St Vincent’s Sydney launched its new campus-wide mental health strategy, an innovative plan to improve accessibility and service integration for the unique patient populations the hospital has long served.

The strategy focusses on offering high quality mental health services with preferential treatment for the vulnerable populations that live in the local area, including people who are homeless, have alcohol and other drug issues, or who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Launched by the NSW Minister for Mental Health, Bronwyn Taylor, the strategy has four priorities: to work with community partners to co-design an Urban Health Centre to provide early intervention and tailored services to meet the unique needs of people in the area, including extended hours of care; to grow the hospital’s services beyond its walls; to offer precision mental health based on a better understanding of neurobiology and pharmacogenomics; and continue St Vincent’s Sydney’s reputation as one Australia’s leading providers of eHealth and telehealth programs.

St Vincent’s is now NSW’s fastest growing provider of telehealth services, with more than 55 active telehealth programs and more than 80 trained clinicians providing care to people in rural or remote areas for a range of services, from pain management to alcohol and drug specialist support.

MRI Guided Focused Ultrasound Unit

St Vincent’s Sydney’s new MRI Guided Focused Ultrasound Unit (MRgFUS) represents pioneering medical technology, providing personalised, non-invasive, incisionless treatment for patients suffering from essential tremor, the world’s most common movement disorder, characterised by the uncontrolled shaking of limbs, head and voice.

In the course of the procedure, the surgeon makes a lesion measuring only a few millimetres in size in the thalamus – a part of the brain involved in the ‘circuit’ that causes tremor. Previously, this would have required an opening in the skull and insertion of a probe. The entire procedure is conducted inside an MRI scanner.

In basic terms, the MRI is effectively the ‘eyes’ of the treatment, enabling the team to accurately plan, guide and target the ultrasound therapy. It also enables precise measurement of the temperature in order to verify that only the intended tissue is treated.

The technology uses 1024 beams of ultrasound energy, all pinpointed on the area requiring treatment, and its extraordinary and immediate impact on patients and their symptoms was profiled on both 9 News and ABC 730 during the year.

Purchased via philanthropic funds, the MRgFUS is the first in the Southern Hemisphere, and sets up St Vincent’s Sydney to become a specialised national centre for this treatment so that all Australians can access its benefits without needing to travel overseas.

Parklea Correctional Centre

During the year, St Vincent’s began providing primary care services at Parklea Correctional Centre in north-west Sydney. St Vincent’s Hospital Correctional Health (SVHCH) is delivering primary health care, primary mental health and drug/alcohol care, and dental and allied health services to Parklea as a part of the MTC-Broadspectrum team that operates the Centre under an agreement with Corrective Services NSW.

St Vincent’s Sydney is providing a 24/7 model of care to ensure the health needs of inmates can be responded to in a timely and compassionate manner.

In delivering primary health to the Centre, SVHCH is providing a strong focus on immunology, addiction medicine, mental health, and general medicine, often via telehealth. The team is also providing access to emergency care including triage, referral, and coordination of care for inpatient admission where required. Some of these services are an extension of St Vincent’s Sydney’s existing clinical services, but in many instances the hospital has established new services and recruited additional dedicated staff.

St Vincent’s Sydney’s work at Parklea represents a new chapter in the hospital’s long and rich heritage providing health care to prisoners.

Advanced Cardiac Imaging Centre

One of the biggest events for St Vincent’s Sydney during 2018-19 was the opening of the Advanced Cardiac Imaging Centre, the first of its type in Australia.

A joint initiative of the St Vincent’s Heart Lung Service and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, the new Centre brings two powerful and complementary cardiac imaging techniques – CT and MRI – together in a single space for the first time, operated by cardiologists and a dedicated team of radiographers.

The benefit of the cardiac CT scanning is that it replaces the need for procedures such as coronary angiography to examine the coronary arteries. The new CT scanner can take images of the entire heart and the blood supply through the coronary arteries – all in a fraction of a heartbeat.

The new cardiac MRI machine produces moving images of all the heart structures without any radiation exposure for the patient. Images can detect any changes in the heart muscle and accurately measure blood flow through the chambers of the heart and within the heart muscle.

These procedures benefit patients in terms of speed, comfort, safety and improved accuracy of diagnosis.

Burton Street Centre

Building on St Vincent’s Sydney’s expertise in services for people with alcohol and other drug issues, the hospital was proud to commence its new stimulant treatment program – the Burton Street Centre – providing free and confidential counselling for young people, aged 16 to 25, who use methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy and other drugs.

Since opening in late 2018, the Burton Street Centre has seen clients as young as 14, reflecting the importance of its presence in the community.

The centre has an inclusive model of care and provides individual therapy for both the young person and their concerned others, via family or network-based therapy (a specialised type of combined individual and group therapy).

Bone marrow transplants

The official opening of St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s new Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant ward

More than 40 years after performing Australia’s first adult bone marrow transplant, St Vincent’s Sydney opened its new Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant ward in September 2018, a state-of-the-art 20-bed unit offering each patient private, negative airflow pressure rooms, thereby minimising the risk of infection and exposure to resistant microorganisms.

Moreover, the provision of a private room and bathroom for each patient, gives them and their families much needed privacy at such a vulnerable time in their lives.

The $7.2 million project was entirely funded by philanthropic support, with special thanks to the Nelune Foundation Cancer Care Services, Dr John and Anne Chong, the late Italo Mazzola AM, Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Foundation, and All for Trace.

Tackling homelessness

Homelessness – and particularly people sleeping rough on the streets – is a serious problem in inner-city Sydney. Homelessness in Sydney increased by 50% between 2011 and 2016.

Not only does St Vincent’s Sydney provide the area’s most important suite of homeless health services, it has long played a leading role in advocating for governments and other agencies to address the problem more effectively and with greater resources.

During 2018, St Vincent’s Sydney joined with other non-government organisations in partnering with the Institute of Global Homelessness, the City of Sydney, and the NSW Government as part of the Act to End Street Sleeping initiative.

Together, the aim is to reduce rough sleeping in the City of Sydney local government area by 25% by 2020 and reduce rough sleeping in the City of Sydney and NSW by 50% by 2025.


Finally, the year saw a number of prestigious awards bestowed on individuals and units connected with St Vincent’s Sydney in recognition of outstanding achievements, including: both St Vincent’s Sydney’s CEO, A/Prof Anthony Schembri, and Director of Anaesthetics, Dr Gregory O’Sullivan, being made Members of the Order of Australia; Dr Jenny Stevens winning Collaborative Leader of the Year at the NSW Health Awards; St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney winning Employer Support Award for Australian Defence Force Reservists; and the Kinghorn Cancer Centre being awarded the NSW Premier’s Award for Outstanding Clinical Trials Unit.

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