A NEW project to map out mental health services throughout WA is expected to help a “dysfunctional system” and prevent patients getting lost in the “mental health maze”, says WA’s leading medical group.
But the innovative project — the first of its kind in Australia — could hit an early roadblock as the mental health sector is faced with having $21.6 million ripped out of its budget over the next three years.
The Integrated Atlas of Mental Health is a joint WA-federal government funded project contracted out to an independent firm ConNetica, as detailed in the upcoming Australian Medical Association Medicus magazine.
The Atlas project will be first time an entire Australian state will be mapped in this way, identifying gaps and duplications of mental health services, and then recommending new services to be commissioned.
It will involve mapping all services throughout the State’s 71 hospitals as well as other health services in small and remote communities where telehealth services and pharmacies are sometimes the only health service.
AMA’s WA psychiatry spokesman Martin Chapman said the Atlas project was an encouraging sign that the WA Health Commission and the federally-funded WA Primary Health Alliance were working together to resolve the lack of “visibility” of what services actually existed in communities.
“At the moments patients just don’t know where to go for help and they’re getting lost. It’s an absolute maze,” Dr Chapman said, who was a consulting psychiatrist involved in the WAPHA Mental Health Expert Advisory Group.
He said the project would map out the maze of non-government service providers, as well as state and federal public services.
“There is a vast array of services out there but every day there are ED physicians, GPs and psychiatrists struggling to find services for patients. Services themselves are not aware of other providers.
“It’s no wonder that patients and carers report being stranded and lost in the system. The lack of co-ordination in causing dysfunction.”
He said although the Atlas project was a positive sign in a struggling sector, practitioners would be concerned whether the project would “translate” into changes including additional services because of budget cuts.
Dr Chapman said hospital emergency departments continued to “overflow” with mental health and drug related presentations, with patients being turned away with “tragic consequences”.
In January, The Sunday Times revealed that discharged mental health patients were being kept in backpacker places because of the dire shortage of so-called “step-down” facilities, where patients could be “transitioned” from acute to subacute care.
Mental Health Commissioner Tim Marney declined to comment.
ConNetica director John Mendoza said he expected to release a draft report on the Atlas project by September.
This article first appeared on ‘Perth Now’ on 21 March 2016.