The data presented in this report on mental health spending trends need to be interpreted in the context of two reminders about the limitations of an exclusive focus on health spending.
The first concerns the fact that spending patterns do not tell us about what is actually delivered in terms of the volume and quality of services and the outcomes they achieve. In the context of the National Mental Health Strategy, understanding how resources are allocated is necessary but not sufficient to judge whether policy directions are achieving the intended benefits for the community. Simply put, more dollars do not necessarily produce more or better services. The indicators reported in Part 3 go some way towards addressing this issue, offering a basis for monitoring 'value for money' in current mental health investment.
The second Iimitation concerns the reiationship between resources and needs. Measuring growth over the past 18 years informs us about changes since the commencement of the Strategy. It does not tell us whether the original 1992-93 funding levels were adequate to meet community need, or whether the growth that has taken place has been sufficient to meet new demands that have emerged since the Strategy began. The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing highlighted continuing and substantial levels of unmet need for mental health services.
The implication is that current funding levels may not be enough to meet priority needs of the Australian population. These concerns underpinned many of the new initiatives announced under the 2006 COAG National Action Plan on Mental Health, and, more recently, the 2010 and 2011 Federal Budget measures that allocated $2.2 billion over five years for a broad range of mental health initiatives. The Fourth National Mental Health Plan includes a commitment by all governments to develop a National Mental Health Service Planning Framework that establishes targets for the optimal mix and level of the full range of mental health services that will provide a framework to guide future investment.