Over most of the last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Garma Festival in East Arnhem Land. This festival provides a rich program of lectures and discussions led by key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, but also provides a deep immersion into the local culture - particularly that of the Yolgnu people gathering on Gulkula, a special part of their lands.
I will provide a longer update in future newsletters, but suffice to say here that I encountered a proud and rich culture, a strong community leaders young and old, roots to country that are so deep we can only really begin to glimpse them, palpable anger about ongoing injustices including the offences that have recently come to light at the Don Dale centre, but also clarity, strength and optimism regarding the future the people are building for their children and their children's children.
It also provided a chance to meet (and in some cases camp with) senior public servants and corporate leaders who also attend Garma to gain a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges affecting communities.
The photo I took at the bottom of this update captures (for me) something of the spirit of the Festival - a celebration of an ancient and strong culture and a commitment to a brighter future.
PHN Mental Health Guidance Released
During the week, the Department of Health released a series of eight guidance documents for PHNs, to assist them with their new role of commissioning mental health services. A few key points we have identified are below. We welcome:
- the recognition that the NDIS can not be the whole answer, as the NDIS will only cater for around 1 in 12 people with severe mental illness
- the recognition that 'effective consumer participation needs to be appropriately resourced,' and hope this will ensure PHNs observe the NMHCCF’s position on paid consumer and carer engagement
- the statement that 'PHNs will need to consider mechanisms for proactive advocacy and outreach'
- the role of PHNs in encouraging GPs to address the physical health inequities of individuals with severe mental illness
However, we are concerned about:
- the prohibition on PHNs commissioning psychosocial support, which is likely to mean people outside the NDIS will struggle to find psychosocial support
- the requirement for each individual PHN to establish 'mental health specific clinical governance arrangements.' It would seem to be more efficient for clinical governance standards and arrangements to be nationally consistent
- the continued under-emphasis of the potential role of peer workers, with PHNs merely encouraged to 'consider' the role of the peer workforce
- the requirement that 'additional assessment arrangements for people with severe and complex mental illness will be expected to be developed by PHNs… These assessment processes will also need to link to… NDIS assessment'. While we welcome the possibility of integrating assessment processes across PHNs, LHNs and NDIS, it would be more efficient for these processes to be developed at a state or national level.
Further information is required on:
- the commitment that 'there will be national support provided to establish national training and accreditation systems for an appropriate workforce to deliver low intensity mental health services'
- financial certainty, with the guidance referring to 'the three year implementation period,' but with funding only provided to PHNs for two years.
- the guidance says that 'in some circumstances funding can be considered for workforce development' for the indigenous mental health workforce. But those circumstances are not specified, and so remain unclear.
The full guidance documents are available via the link below.
NDIS Funding for LAC support
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) is inviting organisations to apply for funding through an open competitive process to deliver services under the NDIS Partners in the Community Program, including Local Area Coordination Services and/or Early Childhood Early Intervention Services.
Funding is available to deliver services in the ACT, as well as identified areas of Queensland, Victoria and South Australia that have people scheduled to transition into the NDIS in 2017.
The grant round closes on Thursday 8 September 2016 at 2:00pm AEST.
For more information regarding the NDIS Partners in the Community Grants Round please visit the NDIS website.
Cathy O’Toole has won the seat of Herbert. Cathy was the CEO of SOLAS, a major mental health provider in north Queensland and part of the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia network. She was also President of the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health.
Both the government and opposition have announced their new frontbench. On the government side, there have been no changes relevant to mental health, with the Hon Sussan Ley remaining as Health Minister, the Hon Christian Porter as Social Services Minister, and the Hon Jane Prentice as Assistant Minister with responsibility for the NDIS. On the opposition side, the Hon Julie Collins has taken over responsibility for mental health, Senator Carol Brown is the new Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers, while the Hon Catherine King remains responsible for Health. We were also pleased to see the appointment of the Hon Andrew Leigh as Shadow Minister for charities and not-for-profits, and we look forward to working with him on our agenda to improve the way government and the NGO sector interacts.
Mental health and ‘lone-wolf’ terrorists
A couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister asked the Commonwealth Counter-Terrorism Coordinator (Mr Greg Moriarty) to investigate Australian terror suspects’ potential links with mental illness. I will be writing to Mr Moriarty to express my concern that any work in this area avoids further stigmatising people with a lived experience of mental illness, their carers and families. This is a complex area, and I urge everyone to consider the materials produced by SANE Australia and Mindframe which are designed to support the reporting, portrayal and communication about mental illness, which will be important in framing any discussion papers or other public communication about this work.
Medical Research Future Fund
Late last week our Director of Policy and Projects, Josh Fear, attended a consultation session run by the Department of Health on the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). Announced in the 2014 Budget, the MRFF’s capital will grow to $20 billion over the longer term with contributions coming from budgeted savings in the health portfolio. When the fund matures it is anticipated that annual disbursements of up to $1 billion will follow, with disbursements over the next four years projected to be close to $800 million. Consultations at this stage are focussing on strategies and priorities for the MRFF’s investments.
When the MRFF was first announced, health advocates were concerned it would support only clinical research, and would not invest in other areas of need such as preventative health, the social determinants of health or health system performance. Happily, early indications from the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board indicate that the MRFF will have a broader remit reflecting the weight of stakeholder opinion on priorities for investment. With mental illness associated with a larger burden of non-fatal disease than any other category of disorder, we can anticipate the MRFF will indeed support a range of research initiatives on mental health, including investigations into systems-level issues.
More information on the MRFF can be found via the link below.
NDIS Readiness Webinar – Improve IT4NDIS
Late last month, we advised about a free NDIS readiness webinar, which was being run by The Virtual IT Department, NDS and Mental Health Australia. The webinar was part of the ImproveIT4NDIS project. The project is designed to deliver an accelerated IT Planning and System Selection Program for providers seeking to build their ICT literacy and capability including a road map for upgrading or selecting a system(s) in preparation for the NDIS.
The webinar quickly filled up, and at the moment, we are not able to offer any further sessions. If you are still interested, could you please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and once we have an idea of further demand, we can gauge whether it will be possible to run additional webinars.
Further information is available from the website.