Forty per cent of mental health agencies say they have already lost staff as a result of the uncertainty, while more than half report a reduction in services to their clients, according to a survey of 75 organisations which receive Commonwealth funding, conducted by Mental Health Australia.
Almost half of those surveyed reported difficulty in attracting new staff, and 81 per cent reported a decline in staff morale.
Fifty six per cent of organisations said they had not had communications with the government regarding the future of their Commonwealth funding after June next year, and 85 per cent reported a loss of trust in government among management and staff.
Mental Health Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan said the typically short-term funding cycles for mental health programs, a lack of clarity about how the National Disability Insurance Scheme would affect funding arrangements, and a national review of existing mental health programs had combined to create a “perfect storm of indecision.”
“Nobody argues about the need for these programs but at the moment we just can’t seem to find anybody to own the future of that problem,” Mr Quinlan said.
Health Minister Peter Dutton is considering the review of existing services, conducted by the National Mental Health Commission, after receiving the report late last month.
Mr Quinlan urged the government to provide interim funding assurances to organisations to allow them to continue to provide services while it develops its response to the review.
“We really can’t wait any longer – by the time we get to the May budget, things are going to be a lot worse than they are already,” he said.
A spokesman for Mr Dutton said the government was “committed to building a world class mental health system” and had commissioned the National Mental Health Commission to review existing services to assess how well and efficiently they were helping their clients.
“The Commission’s Report has only just been concluded and provided to the Government. The Government will now consider the report and its recommendations and will respond after appropriate deliberations. Mental health services have had their funding continued through to June 2015 while this process has taken place,” the spokesman said.
This article first appeared on ‘The Age’ on 8 December 2014.