Our priority areas

Mental Health and Alcohol
and Other Drugs


Northern Queensland Primary Health Network’s (NQPHN’s) Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) priority objectives include improving access and integration of mental health and AOD services.  

While, in the 2022 financial year, NQPHN increased access to mental health services by funding programs that meet the needs of North Queenslanders, we also began the codesign process for a new model of mental health stepped care services that will increase access to high quality, safe and timely mental health care, including to areas and groups experiencing vulnerability.    

NQPHN is committed to enhancing and establishing a range of evidence-based and culturally appropriate mental health and AOD support services which are accessible to residents across North Queensland.

A few of our Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs projects are highlighted below.

Our Region, Our People
A safe place is helping people to recover from substance abuse

Creating a safe place has helped a man in his 40s on the road to recovery from alcohol and drug dependency in Townsville.

The Salvation Army Withdrawal Management Service (WMS) in Townsville has been partially funded by Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN), with participants provided with a secure and calm environment.

Withdrawal Management Team Leader and registered nurse Julie Cobb said the service provided a safe place “to unpack emotions, provide psychoeducation, and explore options for recovery”.

“We see this as a great way to foster autonomy and connection, both important factors in the therapeutic alliance,” Ms Cobb said.

“Often conversations about where-to-next and planning for discharge occurs and confidence and hope flourishes.

“As participants explore options, they consider what is right for them and voice their needs and wants they gain a sense of self. Taking this therapeutic risk leads to greater confidence and a focus put on the future.”

Participants are also encouraged to engage in art therapy facilitated by the service’s registered nurses.

Ms Cobb said recently a 48-year-old man experiencing chronic homelessness and significant alcohol and methamphetamine dependency called WMS in a vulnerable state requesting an emergency admission for withdrawal.

He was known to the service with four prior admissions over the past three years.

“The man was feeling hopeless, at the end of his tether and could not think past the end of day, let alone plan for his recovery,” Ms Cobb said.

She said a phone assessment was conducted, along with a health risk assessment, and it was determined that a rapid admission was required.

A taxi collected the man from his location, and he was admitted to the WMS.

The man completed a seven-day medicated withdrawal and during that time he engaged with staff, reflected on previous withdrawals, and rehabilitation, and learnings.

“He explored his sense of self and the notion of institutionalisation and the comfort zone and what that meant for his recovery,” Ms Cobb said.

“Motivational interviewing techniques were used, and this man was able to set short, medium, and long-term goals as well as the steps required to achieve those goals.

“As a result of all the supported conversations, contemplations, and goal setting, another rehabilitation program was identified that best suited his need.”

Ms Cobb said WMS staff worked with the man to support a warm referral and he was now well along the way of his recovery journey.

NQPHN uses Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) funding to commission a range of services across our footprint to improve access for individuals to a range of evidence-based interventions regarding substance use that is tailored to the needs of each individual.

Services such as the WMS provided by Ms Cobb’s team work with a range of other health and community services (including GPs, mental health providers and Hospital and Health Services) to better integrate health and wellbeing treatment and referral pathways for people experiencing comorbid health conditions.

The Townsville WMS delivered AOD withdrawal management services for prevention and harm reduction for both individuals and the wider community and support the cessation of substance use.

It provided an inpatient service and care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with admission and intake into the services four days per week.

The service is comprised of 10 beds which created a platform for people to build their lives in ways that are meaningful and purposeful.

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Key projects

headspace ‘one at a time support’ model

headspace Townsville has implemented substantial changes to more effectively address community needs. With an influx of 90-170 referrals per month, the year 2021 saw an average intake appointment wait time exceeding 60 days, and a waitlist of 204 young individuals waiting for over a year to receive continued counselling after their initial intake session.  

headspace Townsville secured funding aimed at reducing wait times, which facilitated an expansion of the center's capabilities. In February 2022, headspace Townsville introduced an evidence-based approach through a single-session intervention model, merging initial assessments with brief interventions starting from the first appointment, known as ‘one at a time support’.  

Clinician caseloads were also restructured to increase the diversity of services available, allowing for both brief and longer-term interventions to occur. In addition to these internal changes, relationships with universities were prioritised, which increased student placements and service delivery in the centre.  

The diversity of service offerings increased clinical support and introduction of ‘one at a time support’ significantly decreased wait times for the first appointment with an average between 30-40 days, as well as the number of people waiting for ongoing treatment. Currently, there are 17 young people waiting less than three months for ongoing treatment.

Key statistics
referrals per month
young people waiting less than three months for ongoing treatment

Mental health stepped care review and codesign

Since 2018, NQPHN has commissioned mental health stepped care services across the northern Queensland region to support people with low, moderate, and high intensity mental health needs.  

Following an independent review of these services in 2022, which recommended NQPHN redesign the existing service, NQPHN undertook a comprehensive codesign campaign holding 16 workshops and 40 one-on-one stakeholder meetings across northern Queensland in the 2022-23 financial year.  

Participants included people with a lived experience of mental health challenges or suicide, carers, service providers, GPs, and other stakeholders.  

These codesign activities have informed the development of a new system of care, which focuses on improving access, transitions in care, and integration to truly meet local needs.  

Codesign will be ongoing in 2023-24, inclusive of a procurement process to establish a new network of providers to deliver stepped care services.  

Key statistics
Codesign workshop attendance included:
Cairns workshops
participants in total
Townsville workshops
participants in total
Mackay workshops
participants in total
virtual workshops
participants in total
one-on-one meetings

Psychosocial expansion

Psychosocial support plays a key role in reducing the need for acute mental health services and supporting wellness following periods of acute intervention.  

In 2022-23, NQPHN received additional funding to expand psychosocial supports to the Torres and Cape region under the new Commonwealth Psychosocial Support Program. This program provides support to people with mental illness who need short-term help to function day to day.  

Ultimately, the program provides both individual and group support activities to assist those with severe mental illness in accessing necessary clinical care and other services. This aids in managing day-to-day activities, strengthening social skills, improving friendships and relationships with family, and enhancing education, vocational, and training skills.   

In addition to the existing service provided by Apunipima, NQPHN commissioned another two First Nations service providers – NPA Family and Community Services, and Wakai Waian Healing - to further expand the services locally to communities throughout Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands.  

These service providers are established in the communities across the Cape York and Torres regions, and are working in partnership with the communities.  

The two additional providers began service delivery late in the third quarter of 2023, seeing 17 clients in that time. The success of having local providers and local staff delivering the psychosocial supports has seen an increase in the trust of the community to refer to these new services.

Key statistics
First Nations service providers (Apunipima, NPA Family and Community Services, and Wakai Waian Healing)

Our priority areas

Population Health