We need a plan
The announcement this week by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, and Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Emma McBride - to fund two independent national mental health lived experience peak bodies, one representing consumers and the other representing carers, families and kin - is welcome news.
Mental Health Australia was initially involved in the scoping of a consumer peak body when the Minister was responsible for mental health over a decade ago, however this body was never implemented. So it is with great pleasure that we see this work and the years of advocacy since come to fruition with the Albanese Government investing in the infrastructure that consumers and carers need to shift the system to one that is driven by lived experience.
The announcement came at the end of a four-hour consultation led by the Minister, the Assistant Minister, and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Dr Ruth Vine. Over 80 participants represented the sector including consumers and carers with the focus of the discussion on the equity and access issues identified in the evaluation of the Better Access initiative. With that number of people in the room it was always going to be a broad discussion.
The discussion focused on issues both on the Better Access initiative and other issues which have contributed to the current inequity of access. Too many perspectives were provided to be summarised here, but we were advised that the Department of Health and Aged Care will pull them together into a document, and that further consultations will be held to reduce inequity and increase access to mental health services.
It’s been a very long time =
since any government has brought the mental health sector together in such a large meeting. One of the positive things that came out of the meeting was the level of alignment and respectful nature of the conversation across the diversity of representatives, with a wealth of knowledge and insights provided by the attendees.
The need to tackle workforce issues was a hot topic. The soon-to-be-released National Mental Health Workforce Strategy will hopefully become the catalyst to begin addressing these issues.
The Minister detailed the budgetary challenges facing the government. These included the recent pandemic, natural disasters, the Medicare review, and the process to find funding for multiple services (including psychosocial services) facing a funding cliff at the end of June this year.
Whilst acknowledging the significant budgetary challenges facing the government, there remains a critical need to progress reform and begin addressing the issues highlighted in Monday’s Forum. A plan on how to do that, over time, would be a good place to start.