ASHLEY HALL: Mental health advocates say the Government has the chance this year to build the world’s best mental health system, but they fear the opportunity could be squandered.
The Government has expected to deliver its response to a major review of the efficiency and effectiveness of mental health services before the May budget. But it only received the review in December and some in the sector are worried the response could be rushed, especially since the new Health Minister Sussan Ley will be pre-occupied with ongoing issues with the GP co-payment.
The chief executive of mental health charity Sane Australia, Jack Heath, has been speaking to Lexi Metherell.
JACK HEATH: Twenty-fifteen is shaping up as a time of great leadership opportunity in mental health.
We’ve got three big reviews taking place. There’s a National Mental Health Commission’s review that is being handed to government we haven’t seen yet. There’s the McClure review into welfare. And also we’ve got the federation white paper coming up. On top of all this we’ve got the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Mental health has to be a key priority for Minister Ley as she comes into a very challenging portfolio.
LEXI METHERELL: And when you talk about leadership, there’s not only been a change in the health minister who is responsible for mental health policy from Peter Dutton to Sussan Ley, but there’s also a new Health Department secretary. Do those changes raise any concerns for you?
JACK HEATH: Look, they are concerning in the sense that we were waiting to see where Peter Dutton wanted to go in terms of a national mental health review. He obviously was across a lot of the issues.
We’ve now got a new Minister. Now, she seems very capable but there’s some really big challenges facing her to get across a very complex brief. And also there’s a need here to respond to the review very quickly because there’s a whole raft of organisations out there working in mental health supporting hundreds of thousands of people and there’s no surety about what’s going to happen to funding after 30 June.
LEXI METHERELL: The response to the National Mental Health Review is expected to be made before the budget in May. Are you concerned about the timing, that there’s only three or four months until the budget is released?
JACK HEATH: It’s going to be very difficult to be able to turn that round in a comprehensive way. We’ve got this major review.
So I think the next two to three months are going to be absolutely critical for people who are affected by mental illness across Australia in terms of how well we respond at a policy level.
LEXI METHERELL: The biggest issue in the health portfolio over the last year has really been the GP co-payment. Do you think that given that is likely to be occupying a large amount of the Minister’s attention, the issue of mental health might fall by the wayside?
JACK HEATH: Look, I think there is a risk that mental health drops off the agenda but this is why it has to be a key priority of the new Minister. And it’s the sort of thing that you’d want her to be thinking about as she goes to bed each night is, what have we done around the mental health piece today? So it has to be up there front and centre as one of the key issues that she’s addressing.
LEXI METHERELL: The Government is looking to get as much bang for its buck out of the mental health sector and its spending on mental health services and programs. How would you recommend that it could achieve efficiencies to be getting the most value for its dollar?
JACK HEATH: Well, I think when you start investing more in the early intervention and prevention and getting funding out of the acute area and more into those community based services I think that’s really important.
There are areas in Australia where we do things better than anyone else in the world. We’ve got a really sort of high level of awareness around mental health issues across the community. We’ve got responsible media. We’ve got people wanting to do the right thing.
I think that there’s a huge opportunity here for leadership in mental health at a federal and state level where we could actually build the world’s best mental health system.
ASHLEY HALL: Sane Australia’s chief executive Jack Heath speaking to Lexi Metherell.
A spokesman for the Health Minister says the Government will take the time to deliver a considered response to the mental health review.
This item first appeared AM ABC, 15 January 2015.