Mental health review head says changes up to a decade overdue

Mental health review head says changes up to a decade overdue

Mental health review head says changes up to a decade overdue

Updated 15 April 2015, 13:25 AEST

The head of a review into Australia's mental health sector warns the system will struggle without change and a major funding overhaul.

The head of a review into Australia's mental health sector has warned the system will struggle without change and a major funding overhaul.

The National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) probe found major flaws in responses to people seeking help, and recommends shifting more than $1 billion from hospitals to community-based mental health services.

NMHC chairman Professor Allan Fels said the system was up to a decade overdue for an overhaul.

"The system would be struggling if it continues on in the present way," he told AM.

"There is a clear need for rebalancing and that would reduce both human suffering and economic costs.

"The Commonwealth should get ready to somewhat rebalance its spending away from it all going into hospitals when it would be better spent on services that keep people out of hospitals."

Professor Fels said there were no recommendations to immediately reduce hospital funding.

The ABC has obtained a summary of the yet-to-be released report, which finds the Commonwealth spends almost $10 billion on mental health annually, but with no consistent measures of whether it improves people's lives.

It recommends:

  • The Government reallocate a minimum of $1 billion over five years from 2017-18 from hospitals to community-based services
  • An aim to reduce suicides and suicide attempts by half over the next decade
  • Including mental health in Close the Gap targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

Opposition, support groups call for government to release full report

Pressure is building on the Federal Government to release the long-awaited review.

The NMHC report was delivered in November last year but has not been publicly released.

Opposition mental health spokeswoman Jan McLucas has argued the delay is unacceptable.

"This report has been leaked, and I think leaked out of frustration, so that this conversation that we need to have as a nation can be had," Senator McLucas said.

Suicide Prevention Australia chief Sue Murray also called for the report's immediate release, arguing the delay had real impacts on the mental health sector.

"The lengthy delay in the release of the report has led to some organisations losing staff," Ms Murray said.

"What that means is the services that those organisations are able to provide are diminished."

Health Minister Sussan Ley said the review would be released soon.

"The Abbott Government is currently finalising its overarching strategy to address the complex and wide-ranging recommendations of the Mental Health Review, which will be released shortly in conjunction with review itself," Ms Ley said in a statement.

"I can confirm the Government is committed to working with mental health experts and other levels of government over the next 12 months to deliver better outcomes for the sector and Australians long-term."

The minister also played down the chance of shifting $1 billion from hospitals to community-based care.

"This is a report to the Government, not of Government, and any recommendations will need to continue to be scrutinised in consultation with the mental health sector and other levels of government," Ms Ley said.

"However, my strong view is we need to be partners with the states if we are to address serious mental health issues in this country long-term.

"Our preference therefore is to work with the states to deliver better co-ordination of existing roles and funding arrangements, rather than reduce the part they play."