Lesley Russell and Robert Wells, of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney/Australian National University, write:
“The communiqué from the most recent meeting of the Australian Health Ministers Conference on March 5 announced the launch of Australia’s new National Mental Health Policy 2008, describing it as representing ‘a renewed commitment by all governments to the continual improvement of Australia’s mental health system’.
The communiqué also noted that ‘Ministers agreed that the revised National Mental Health Policy will provide the basis for the development of the Fourth [National Mental Health] Plan.’
That’s the way it should be – except for two major problems.
First, the mental health community has continually expressed concerns over the policy document, which looks pretty much like the previous policies at a time when a revitalized approach is clearly needed.
And second, the National Health Policy was released just one day before the national consultation period on the Fourth National Mental Health Plan was due to finish.
That makes for very limited informed debate.
An additional limitation is imposed by the fact that the evaluation of the Third National Mental Health Plan has yet to be released.
While it’s always nice to see timelines being met, this should not come at the expense of substantive reform, due consideration of the successes and failures of the past, and meaningful consultation with the stakeholders.
The sad fact is that each successive National Mental Health Plan has become increasing irrelevant as a driver for planning, funding and reform.”