MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Some Australians who live with mental illness may be about to lose important medical and social support services. The Federal Government funds scores of community-based mental health service providers to the tune of $300 million a year. But the Health Ministry is still deciding which services will get continued funding in this year’s budget.
Providers have written an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott imploring the Government to provide certainty to the sector.
Peter Lloyd reports.
PETER LLOYD: When mental illness strikes, it’s often small things that help people stay upright in their lives. Monique Williamson knows that better than most. She runs the Mental Illness Fellowship in Western Australia.
MONIQUE WILLIAMSON: We run very supporting people to live in their homes rather than hospital to day programs for people to reduce isolation.
PETER LLOYD: How many people would you say depend upon the services you provide?
MONIQUE WILLIAMSON: In the thousands across Western Australia.
PETER LLOYD: They may not all be getting help after June 30. One third of Monique Williamson’s $3 million budget comes from the Federal Government. The uncertainty about whether it will continue has already had an impact.
MONIQUE WILLIAMSON: So we employ directly 65 staff.
PETER LLOYD: And of that 65, how many of those jobs are in peril if you don’t get continuity of funding?
MONIQUE WILLIAMSON: At least 50 per cent of them.
PETER LLOYD: Do you ever wonder whether when the money stops whether lives are lost?
MONIQUE WILLIAMSON: Absolutely. The suicide rates, the end of life for many people with mental illness is high as it is. We know when we get the support and services right we turn that around – we know what we do works.
PETER LLOYD: It’s the Federal Health Minister’s job to decide which of these community programs continues to win government funding. A spokesman for Sussan Ley says the Minister is highly conscious of the sector’s need for certainty. The umbrella organisation, Mental Health Australia, has, though, now gone over her head by writing to the Prime Minister directly.
Frank Quinlan is Mental Health Australia’s CEO.
FRANK QUINLAN: These programs are fundamentally about delivering services and programs to some of Australia’s most vulnerable and needy people, people who experience mental illness and have sometimes come to rely on these sometimes day-to-day supports – sometimes less frequent support – to manage their daily lives.
PETER LLOYD: Do you have these concerns every year?
FRANK QUINLAN: Look, occasionally programs are funded for longer than a year, for up to three years, but the year-on-year funding really remains a constant burden. And I think it represents a huge impost of red tape – both for services and programs delivering these supports, but also for the Government.
PETER LLOYD: It’s a red tape merry-go-round that the sector says it could well do without. It’s imploring the Government to think and fund beyond the usual 12 month year-on-year funding cycle. Monique Williamson reckons it would make running Mental Illness Fellowship in WA a whole lot easier.
MONIQUE WILLIAMSON: Losing one program means it can take us, you know, several years to rebuild the quality of staff that we may well have lost.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Monique Williamson, the CEO of a community mental health service for Western Australia. And Peter Lloyd was the reporter there.
This transcript first appeared AM, 24 March 2014