Extra funds for mental health services: 'no gaps' for clients, or a 'band-aid' solution?

By Stephen Easton

March 25, 2019

Depression Mental Health Mental Health Head

The Social Services Minister promises “no gaps in supports for clients of Commonwealth community mental health programs” as their funding goes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but an extra top-up looks like “another band-aid” to a director from one service provider.

Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher announced $165 million in extra funds for transitional support for a range of federally funded services — not just mental health — as that money flows into the consumer-directed NDIS. Some of their clients could be eligible for some funding to help them manage a “psychosocial disability” within an NDIS package, and there are continuity of support arrangements for the many who are not.

Many of these organisations have been understandably jittery about whether enough of their clients will be eligible for the NDIS to remain financially sustainable, and this fear is particularly acute in the mental health sector.

Fletcher committed $121.29m of the new transitional funding to providers of three non-clinical community mental health programs, among a blizzard of commendable election promises related to disability support and social services.

Provided through contracts with Public Health Networks, the money is for providers to run the programs — Personal Helpers and Mentors, Partners in Recovery, and Support for Day to Day Living in the Community — for a further 12 months.

“This funding ensures clients from these Commonwealth mental health programs are supported to transition to the NDIS in the smoothest way possible and will make sure that any existing clients are not left without support,” said Fletcher.

The announcement has done little to allay the fears of Dr Sebastian Rosenberg, a mental health policy researcher who is on the board of Woden Community Service, which runs Personal Helpers and Mentors and Partners in Recovery in Canberra.

Dr Rosenberg told The Mandarin earlier in the year he feared the small sector would contract or disappear entirely, meaning the many people with mental illness who are not eligible for NDIS packages will miss out.

He still claims this is likely, despite the continuity-of-support funding which is intended to address the issue.

“This announcement, while welcome in providing some short term relief to a small number of people, fails to address systemic failings in mental health, particularly the need to establish a vibrant, well-resourced community mental health sector, embracing both clinical and psychosocial skills,” Rosenberg said by email.

“The NDIS has had a cataclysmic impact on a fragile psychosocial workforce and sector.  It is yet to be seen whether even this new funding will be enough to prevent many agencies from hitting the wall, with consequent loss of expertise and reduction in choice available to people with a mental illness.”

The late inclusion of “psychosocial disability” in the NDIS has been controversial for a long time.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said PHNs were “well placed to ensure integration and coordination of psychosocial services for individuals and local communities” and would

“PHNs will work with providers and coordinate services based on local needs, taking into account what services and supports are already available, in consultation with providers, consumers and carers,” Hunt said in a statement.

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