Mental Health Matters - Updates on Reform from the Minister for Mental Health - March
An update on reform from the Minister for Mental Health.
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I’d like to take this opportunity to update you on what the Gillard Government is doing to advance vital reforms in mental health. We know that mental health is an issue that is firmly on the minds of many Australians.
As I am sure you would be aware, the Prime Minister identified mental health reform as a major priority for this term of government. That is why she appointed me as the first ever Commonwealth Minister for Mental Health.
In my first few months as Minister, I had many experts and service providers come to Canberra to give me their views on mental health reform. Very early on the Mental Health Council of Australia told me to get out there and hear from consumers and carers firsthand. It was good advice.
Since then, I’ve participated in more than 18 forums in cities and towns around the country with consumers and carers, including an online forum with young people. I’ve had forums with culturally and linguistically diverse communities, with different sections of the mental health workforce, with community mental health providers, with state and territory governments, and many more.
What was clear from these consultations is that the community expects us as a nation to do better by people with a mental illness. To do better as a nation, it was clear to me that Australians expect their national Government to do more.
We need to do more in terms of reforming the way the mental health system works and of course more by way of investment.
The Gillard Government has nearly tripled our investment in specific mental health programs (beyond the PBS and Medicare) over the next four years to $1.4 billion, in comparison to the previous Liberal Government who spent just $516.3 million in their last four years of government.
This includes the $175 million investment made in last year’s budget to expand headspace services, to build Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centres (EPPIC), to expand the Mental Health Nurse Incentive program and to deliver flexible care packages to better support up to 25,000 people with severe mental illness.
The Government’s record investment in mental health services also includes the $275 million Taking Action to Tackle Suicide package announced as part of the federal election campaign last year, with more information available at: www.health.gov.au/mentalhealth
Despite these investments, the Gillard Government recognises that we need to do more. This is why the Prime Minister has asked me to chair a group of mental health experts to very quickly develop options for further reform.
This group includes former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, Professor Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Research Institute, former Chair of the Health and Hospitals Reform Commission Dr Christine Bennet, South Australian Social Inclusion Commissioner Monsignor David Cappo, representatives of consumers and carers and a number of others.
This expert group has already started to provide ideas for real improvements to the mental health system that are achievable and make the best possible use of funding that is already available.
The experts have been very clear about two things; first, that the mental health system needs a long term plan for sustainable reform; and second, that mental health reform is about more than just health services – it’s about employment, education, family, and housing services as well.
The expert working group is currently finalising their work.
You might also be aware that at the recent Council of Australian Government’s meeting (COAG) a major agreement was struck on health reform. This will deliver a better deal for all health patients and secure the long-term sustainability of Australia’s health system. This will deliver lasting benefits to mental health consumers. To find out more I encourage you to visit: www.yourhealth.gov.au
The Prime Minister has also agreed that mental health reform will be listed as an important topic of discussion at a next meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) later in the year.
This is a significant and welcome step towards developing a cohesive mental health strategy incorporating the states and territories.
My consultations, the efforts of the expert group and the work taking place in the lead up to the next COAG meeting will all lead to further significant reforms in mental health.
This reform effort will seek to build on the work done in our first term to make lasting improvements to mental health care. While I will continue to work closely with mental health stakeholders, including consumers and carers, what we have decided is that the key areas of focus for future mental health reform will include:
- strengthened focus on the mental health needs of children and youth;
- improving outcomes for people with severe mental illness through better coordination of services;
- strengthening primary mental health care services;
- increasing economic and social participation for people with mental illness; and
- ensuring quality, accountability and innovation in mental health services.
Minister for Mental Health and Ageing
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