Vulnerable people could fall through the cracks because reforms to the mental health sector are being rolled out too quickly, experts have warned.
Mental Health Australia’s Frank Quinlan said while he welcomed giving local communities more say over the services they receive, he was worried about the speed of the changes.
“There’s a real concern that there will be gaps that are opening up in the system and that new programs won’t be ready before old programs are being withdrawn,” he said.
After a review of the mental health sector which wrapped up in 2015, Health Minister Sussan Ley announced mental health services, funded by her department, would be commissioned by the new Primary Health Networks.
These new organisations were set up to fund services based on local health needs.
Mental health services that will need to apply for funding include early intervention psychosis services, the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program, services in Rural and Remote Areas, Access to Allied Psychological Services, and various small, local suicide prevention programs.
Ms Ley said the National Mental Health Commission recommended Primary Health Networks identify the mental health needs of their local communities and be given funding to commission local services.
“Mental health issues are not isolated in specific suburbs of our capital cities — that’s why the experts have recommended we ensure funding is flexible and services are available equitably in communities Australia-wide,” she said.
She said service continuity was a priority and if certain primary health networks were not ready to commission services by July 2016, then transitional funding could be provided.
Early psychosis services facing the axe
The future of six early intervention psychosis services, run through Headspace, in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia remain under a cloud.
The South Australian program will close on June 30.
The other services around Australia have been told they will only receive 75 per cent of their funding for the 2016-2017 Financial Year and only 30 per cent of their funding for the year after that.
Director of the Melbourne service Paul Denborough said while they would be able to offer the same level of care to patients for the next 12 months, they may not be able to take on new patients.
“If there’s still people who need ongoing support and treatment from us in 12 months’ time, there’s a big risk that there’ll be either nowhere to go, or they’ll have to go to an overstretched and burdened state system,” he said.
Across Australia, the latest national data shows, in April 2015, the services were treating more than 750 young people at risk of or experiencing psychosis.
Ms Ley said early psychosis services in Adelaide would get ongoing funding to ensure continuity of care for patients during the transition period, with the Department of Health working with all six centres to address their individual transitional needs.
She said the reforms were ultimately about doing what is best for patients.
Mental health service has been ‘like a family’: patient
When Lucy Mahony first began to experience psychosis, she said she quite enjoyed it but then the hallucinations became disturbing.
“I was a threat to myself, I tried to kill myself twice and was about to put my dog in the fireplace. I could have been very harmful if I hadn’t had any professional help,” the 21-year-old said.
She was referred to the south east Melbourne Early Intervention Psychosis Service.
Ms Mahony is worried about what might happen if the service is shut down.
“I can’t actually imagine leaving,” she said.
“It’s just nice to have that assurance and it just sort of acts like a safety net, knowing you’ve got someone there to support you at a professional level.”
Ms Mahoney is also worried about her friends who also use the service.
“It almost feels like a family when you’re there, for some people it acts as like a family, so yeah, I would hate to think of how that would affect some people.”
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 3 June 2016.