Big questions surround the funding of mental health

17 Dec 2015

This week in MJA InSight there is a topical discussion about where the priorities should lie for mental health funding in Australia. A related article in Australian Medicine discusses the Government’s plan for Primary Health Networks to be fund holders for the commissioning of local integrated care packages for mental health patients.

These discussions arise from the Government’s recent response to the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) report on the Australian mental health sector, which has called for a shift in federal expenditure away from acute illness and crisis towards primary prevention.

MJA InSight reports that psychiatrists have expressed concern about Australia’s low number of acute psychiatric beds and that, while supportive of the intent to improve community and early intervention, psychiatrists have said it should not be at the expense of inpatient services. The article goes on to describe the views of a GP and board member of Mental Health Australia who is in favour of the spending pendulum swinging more towards prevention and early intervention.

In the Australian Medicine article, AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, expresses reservations about the role of PHNs in the commissioning of care packages, saying that “the success of this new direction in mental health service delivery will depend very much on the capacity and capability of PHNs”. In the article, Professor Owler also expressed concern that the new framework entailed Commonwealth withdrawal from funding and program delivery to instead assume a ‘strategic leadership’ role.