CEO Update - New headlines, new numbers... same political problem

New headlines, new numbers… same political problem

Many of us have been reading recent stories in The Australian regarding mental health and the NDIS with great interest. New estimates, new numbers, but to me the same problem exists, just who is responsible?

As is so often the case, headlines fail to tell the true story of the challenges we face, and can hide important truths contained later in the story. This morning’s headline “Health Department warns of $1bn NDIS mental blowout” is a case in point.

The information cited came from a Commonwealth Department of Health submission to the current Productivity Commission Inquiry into the NDIS.

The Department’s recent submission drew on yet to be released modelling, that estimated some 281,840 Australian’s require ongoing psychosocial support, and 91,916 people (aged 18-64) have needs that “closely align” with the criteria for individual support packages to be offered by the NDIS.

The “blowout” headline arises because the 92,000 estimate, is at variance with the 64,000 estimate contained in the Productivity Commission’s original report supporting the establishment of the NDIS.

But the headline fails to highlight the information contained later in the story, which suggests that to date, the data that the NDIA has on entry to the scheme indicates the number of people entering the scheme are on track to match the Productivity Commission’s original estimate. Time will tell.

The numbers are important, but the more important analysis in my mind, is the political one.

The number of people who experience psychosocial disability is fixed – it is not affected by estimates, even if those estimates vary.

Similarly, the number of people who experience mental illness is also fixed, at least until we start to invest more in early intervention and prevention to fix mental health. That some 280,000 people are estimated to need psychosocial support will not surprise those of us who have been grappling with the size and characteristics of this population since the scheme’s initiation.

What remains unclear, is the answer to the political question, just “Who is going to fund services and programs to support people who experience psychosocial disability and/or mental illness?”

And the possible answers to this question are also finite:

  • The NDIS via individual support packages
  • The NDIS via Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC)
  • The Commonwealth Department of Health via programs like Partners in Recovery
  • The Commonwealth Department of Social Services via programs like Personal Helpers and Mentors
  • Primary Health Networks with expanded capacity and scope to commission psychosocial services
  • State and Territory Governments via the range of programs offered in rehabilitation and social supports and their “continuity of support” commitments
  • A combination of all of the above

What we are witnessing in the media is heightened uncertainty about how many people will be served by individual programs, departments and governments – even though there is little uncertainty regarding the total number of people in need of such support.

Today’s story quotes an important line from the Commonwealth Department of Social Services submission to the Productivity Commission when it says, “The states need to demonstrate they are delivering their undertakings to provide continuity of supports to clients not eligible for the NDIS, to ensure all services meet the needs of all people with disability”.

No accounting of population and service estimates will make sense until everyone is at the table. Until state and territory governments reveal their estimates for the services they will continue to provide, we are all flying blind.

This is just the kind of thing that a renewed “Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan” should make clear! And perhaps that is the key number we should be focussing on right now.

Warm regards 

2017 Parliamentary Advocacy Day - The Hon Bill Shorten MP and Hon Julie Collins MP


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