The mental health sector has been left more than a touch depressed in the wake of the federal budget.
Below you can read analyses from Professor Pat McGorry, psychiatrist and Australian of the Year, and Professor Ian Hickie, of the Brain and Mind Research Institute.
Professor Ian Hickie writes:
“After three Rudd Government Budgets, a detailed national health reform report, and as we move rapidly towards the end of the first term on this
Government, its time to ask some hard questions. If you were spending $7.3 billion over the next few years on kick-starting health reform, where would you make your most strategic investments?
If you had been elected on the basis of making life easier for ‘working families’, and also continued to express a serious commitment to improving the social and economic participation of the most vulnerable, which areas of health would you rush to support? If you thought increasing access to health care services, particularly outside hospitals and emergency department, was a real priority, which population groups or illness categories would
you focus on? If you cared about those living with significant disabilities or chronic illness, what priorities for immediate reform
would you back? If investing in early intervention, particularly among younger Australians, is a sound investment aimed at improving long-term
health and economic outcomes, which programs would you chose? If increased emphasis on prevention is a serious issue, how big would you
expect that investment to be?
The Rudd Government commonly contends that it acts on evidence not polls or simplistic interpretations of public perceptions. It that is the
case, the narrow concentration of new expenditure on hospitals, elective surgery and GP surgeries is not explicable. As we finally commence a period of substantial new health expenditure, many of Australia’s most vulnerable families – particularly those most affected by chronic illness, mental ill-health, alcohol and other drug use and dental problems must be asking themselves: “Why have we been actively excluded? Is it something about us? Is it something about the problems we have?
Haven’t we recognised that these problems occur in all our families, and not just those who need care today? – and perhaps most importantly, “Do
we have any real champions in this first-term Rudd Government?”
Pat McGorry writes:
“<The> budget has deepened concern within the mental health sector that the Government has not yet acted on the Prime Minister’s commitment to a “historic reshaping of mental health services” made at the COAG health summit last month.
Government commitments to expanding access to mental health services for young people are positive in direction, but very limited in scale. Even when the Government expresses full confidence in evidence based models like headspace (for mild to moderate mental ill-health) and EPPIC (for psychosis), the funding is inexplicably meagre. The investment will shave a mere 3% from the waiting list of 750,000 young Australians currently locked out of the mental health care they and their families desperately need. Australians expect the Government to remedy this in the coming months.
At a time of major new health investments, the Government has yet to explain why it is pumping all its precious fuel into acute health while mental health is left to run on fumes. Mental health services are expected to address 14% of Australia’s health burden with a meagre 6% of our health expenditure, well below comparable developed nations. Yet, rather than address this problem, the Government has widened the gap. This trend must be reversed. With political will, Australia can still meet the 2012 target of 9-12% of the health budget that was recommended by the 2006 Senate Select Committee on Mental Health.
Unless we see a change of heart, confidence in this government’s ability to adequately address mental ill-health across Australia will continue to drain away Yet there is still time for the Australian Government to show the leadership it has promised on mental health.
The mental health sector overwhelmingly wants the Government to use the coming weeks to outline its guiding vision for mental health reform, commit itself to ending the unequal access to quality care between physical and mental health and make good faith funding commitments towards achieving this vision. There would be universal community and professional support for this kind of leadership. The millions of Australian families struggling with mental ill-health without access to care desperately need to see that kind of action soon.