The Queensland government has siphoned off $16 million from the state’s mental health services this year in a trend that has worried the National Mental Health Commission.
The commission this week issued a broad report card on national mental health services, which recommended that “mental health funding is spent on mental health, as promised” and not siphoned off to cover budget shortfalls.
However, the Queensland government seems set to close the Barrett Adolescent Centre at Wacol – and has set up two committees to investigate this – without announcing firm replacement mental health services.
Fairfax Media understands senior Queensland Health staff have major concerns about adolescents at the Barrett Centre being assaulted by adult patients at The Park centre for mental health.
Health Minister Lawrence Springborg mentioned similar security issues at The Park centre in parliament on Tuesday.
Labor allocated about $16 million to build a replacement for the centre at Redlands, a project which has been considered since 2007, but it has never gone to tender.
Queensland Alliance of Mental Health chief executive Richard Nelson said mental health spending in Queensland was being diverted.
“It does get siphoned off and it has been an issue for Queensland in the past,” he said.
“I have heard speak that it is too easy to siphon off mental health money and it is possible that may occur again.”
The NMHC warned governments against using mental health money to relieve budget pressure.
“Publicly committed funds do not always stay in mental health services and are too often siphoned off at the end of the financial year to meet overspends in other service areas,” it said.
“The risk of this occurring will be heightened as budget pressures mount.”
A spokesman for Mr Springborg confirmed last week that money set aside for the replacement Barrett Centre had been reallocated.
“Money for work at Redlands was identified in the forward estimates, but a range of significant necessary expenditures were left unfunded in the budget at the time of the change of government,” he said.
“These included urgent repairs to correct serious deficiencies at hospitals as identified in a special report received by the former government in 2010 and unfunded maintenance as documented in the Costello Report.”
On Monday, the spokesman said the new government had “no alternative” and needed extra savings within Queensland Health as the department’s payroll problems continued.
“The proposed relocation of the Barrett Centre was one among many savings necessary to balance the health budget,” he said.
Opposition health spokeswoman Jo Ann Miller said five alternatives had been examined before a replacement site was chosen at Redlands.
A 15-bed adolescent centre – including a school – had already been planned for the Redland Hospital site, she said, and the decision to re-direct funding was wrong.
“It is clear to me that the decision not to proceed with the relocation is contrary to the principles outlined by the National Mental Health Commission and its concerns about the redirection of funds,” Ms Miller said.
“In this case I suspect the earmarked amount has just disappeared because the Newman government has scrapped this very worthwhile project.”
Mr Nelson said the alliance was also worried the state government had pushed ahead with plans not to replace the Barrett Centre.
“My concern is that they will close that centre and not provide alternative resources for people,” he said.
“Shut it down, fine – if that is what you want to do and you can see people’s needs being met in other ways – but don’t just shut it down and provide nothing.”
Mr Springborg’s spokesman said the government was still considering a replacement for the Barrett Centre.
“Consideration of this and other mental health priorities will be matters for the commission to determine,” he said.
Mr Springborg told state parliament on Tuesday that the new Queensland Mental Health Commission would develop a “whole of government” strategic plan to improve mental health care in Queensland.
“The bill makes a number of amendments to the Mental Health Act to rectify the shortfall and to support the role of the director of mental health in administering the act by providing a power to suspend limited community treatment and investigate incidents which suggest a risk to a person, or the public,” he said.
“(It) also provides target conditions to the limited community treatment of forensic and classified patients to assist with safe reintegration into the community; and enable the publication of identifying information about a forensic patient who has absconded from an authorised mental health service.”
Mr Nelson warned 180,000 Queenslanders were not receiving the mental health treatment that they should, but welcomed the new state-based Mental Health Commission.
“We have been heavily involved in consultation on the governance arrangements of the new body,” he said.
“And while we have some concerns that we hope will be addressed during the formation of the commission, the introduction of legislation in Parliament this afternoon is a great step forward.”
As first appeared in Brisbane Times: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/mental-health-resources-cop-16-million-hit-20121128-2ae73.html#ixzz2DZXCafbB