The government will announce a new mental health taskforce to undertake a major review of its primary health networks across the country, in a bid to better target services for all Australians.
Health Minister Greg Hunt will today establish the mental health advisory group, to be co-chaired by Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan and National Mental Health Commission CEO Peggy Brown, as 50 organisations from the sector descend on Parliament House to advocate for policy changes.
Called the Primary Health Network Advisory Panel on Mental Health, it will for the first time look at how the government’s 31 PHNs are commissioning and planning mental health services, more than two years after they were rolled out and replaced Labor’s Medicare Local system.
“This is our opportunity to make sure we’re bringing those mental health reforms alongside the broader primary health reforms in the most effective way possible,” Mr Quinlan told The Australian.
“What it should do is result in people in the community receiving the highest value services and the most evidence-based services regardless of where they live.”
The announcement comes after Mr Hunt told parliament that the 3000 people who committed suicide each year represented more than 20 lives in each MPs’ electorate.
“With four million people though who suffer from mental health issues, this is something which is present in every family, in every community, in every room,” he said.
Mr Hunt, who was appointed Health Minister in January after Sussan Ley was forced to resign from the frontbench, has named mental health as one of the four “pillars” of his national health plan.
“We want more frontline mental health services for Australians that need them and this new panel will play a key role in achieving this,” he said.
“Mental health is a priority for the Turnbull government and both Mr Quinlan and Dr Brown will ensure our multi-billion dollar investment, through 31 Primary Health Networks, creates outcomes for those in need.”
About 80 delegates from the 50 mental health organisations in Canberra today are expected to pressure the government about the 165,000 Australians who need psychological support services but will miss out under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
But Mr Quinlan said the fact Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Turnbull were “attending” the sector’s advocacy day when China’s Premier Le Keqiang visits parliament was a measure of the government’s focus on mental health.
“The establishment of the NDIS has meant that a lot of Commonwealth programs are being wound down and yet we know on the government’s own numbers – 690,000 Australians experience severe mental illness each year, 230,000 require ongoing psycho-social support, and 64,000 will have places in the NDIS,” Mr Quinlan said.
“What we’ll be asking Minister Hunt to do is to really take a lead so that these people don’t miss out on services. We think that’s a conversation he has to have with his state and territory colleagues because this is a national problem.”
Mr Hunt will meet with his state counterparts in Melbourne tomorrow.
This piece by Rosie Lewis was originally published on ‘The Australian’ March 23, 2017.