Opinion — 07 April 2012

A new report has provided proof to what many of us in the profession knew to be true – providing treatment to those with a mental illness in the community is far more effective than hospital based care.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for treatment in hospitals for those severely and acutely unwell and/or about to harm themselves or others. But for the majority of the population therapies can occur within their local communities or for some, within their homes.

The report commissioned by Queensland Alliance for Mental Health and conducted by Synergies Economic Consulting, has found a 500 per cent increase in overall mental health care capacity could be achieved if funds were shifted from psychiatric hospitals to supported community care.

The research investigated the financial implications of three alternative investment strategies for mental health care in Queensland.

1) Leave things as they are (which would require an additional $300 million a year by 2020).

2) Shift 30 per cent of current psychiatric hospital funding to community based programs such as the highly successful Housing and Support Program (HASP) and triple the number of place available in the community

3) Shift all current psychiatric hospital funds (approx. $101 million annually) to programs such as HASP and increase capacity by 500 per cent.

Neither scenario results in a decrease in the availability of inpatient services in major public hospitals. Neither scenario requires additional government investment; rather a re-allocation of current expenditure.

In a press release put out by Queensland Alliance for Mental Health CEO, Richard Nelson said, “The findings of this research demonstrate that investing in supported accommodation is more cost effective than funding inpatient beds and achieves better outcomes for people with a mental illness”.

“A reallocation of resources would enable a 500 per cent increase in supported social housing for people with a mental illness. It would move Queensland from one of the lowest levels of supported community care in Australia to near best practice.”

Based on 2011 budget figures, $101 million is invested in psychiatric hospitals, $287 million in general hospital psychiatric services and $19 million in HASP – meaning the state government currently spends 19 times more on psychiatric hospital care then on community based residential options.

Statistics have shown that the average length of stay in a psychiatric hospital in Queensland is 290 days, compared with an average of around 54 in other Australian states and territories. This is simply because there is nowhere else for them to go.

Clearly such research indicates to government that there is a better way to spend mental health funds that would not decrease the number of beds currently available but increase the amount of community based care for people and provide an option instead of hospitalitisation.

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