A four-way stand-off over who will fund mental health support when the national disability insurance scheme is introduced has emerged, with people already missing out on services to which they previously had access, signalling a “serious” problem for the country.
Mental health support is a last-minute addition to the NDIS after lobbying from the sector but the way in which jurisdictions have approached funding the 56,000 people in the highest needs category will leave others out in the cold.
Mental Health Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan told The Australian the situation was adding to the “toxic effect” of broader funding uncertainty in the sector, with more than half of organisations reporting a reduction in services to clients.
“The commonwealth, the states, the NDIS agency and to a certain extent the National Mental Health Commission are all standing around staring at each other waiting for the first one to flinch,” he said.
The funding problem boils down to confusion revealed by The Australian over what mental health cases would be covered at the highest needs end of the NDIS, Tier 3, and what would be covered by existing arrange-ments that are co-ordinated through Tier 2 of the scheme.
Community Mental Health Australia chairwoman Liz Crowther said the problem was illustrated by the “seriously concerning” move by the Victorian government to roll all its funding for community managed mental health services into the NDIS in the Barwon trial.
The problem is that some of those previously receiving support cannot access the NDIS. “This is something the government has tested in the trial but we will have very serious problems if they do this statewide,” she said.
“There is a budget of approximately $109 million and we would argue about $80m of that should be kept outside of the NDIS. If it all goes into the NDIS, suddenly there is nothing else left for you.”
Ms Crowther warned that the numbers of people with severe mental illness would grow if any jurisdiction failed to support people with mild problems early.
Assistant Social Services Minister Mitch Fifield told ABC radio this week “hell will have no fury like Mitch Fifield as the federal minister”, referring to states withdrawing services prematurely.
This article first appeared on ‘The Australian’ on 11 December 2014.