Mental health pandemic plan to receive $48m

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday May 18, 2020

The national cabinet has endorsed the National Mental Health Commission’s new mental health and wellbeing pandemic plan, health minister Greg Hunt announced on Friday.

Following the national cabinet’s latest meeting, commission CEO Christine Morgan said the plan would address key issues such as substance abuse, gambling, and domestic violence.

“We do need to look at things such as risky behaviour, that so many of us are engaging in to try and cope with the pandemic,” she said.

The plan has three core objectives:

  1. Meet the mental health and wellbeing needs of all Australians to reduce the negative impacts of the pandemic in the short and long term.
  2. Outline seven key principles and 10 key priorities to inform the jurisdictions as they respond to the challenges of COVID-19 during the response and recovery from the pandemic.
  3. Define governance, coordination, and implementation requirements across jurisdictions to facilitate informed planning and decision-making.

The federal government has announced it would invest $48.1 million in the plan, which would go towards improving data and research into the mental health impact of the pandemic; services for vulnerable groups; and for better coordination and communications, including a national mental health communication campaign.

Morgan said the communications campaign would “really seek to normalise help-seeking behaviour”.

Earlier this week the government appointed Australia’s first deputy chief ­medical officer for mental health, who will help deliver the national response to the mental health impacts of the pandemic.

The national cabinet has also decided to gradually reopen elective surgery activity over three stages, while maintaining necessary ICU capacity for any localised outbreaks of COVID-19.

The stages are:

  1. Up to 50% of normal surgical activity levels (including reportable and non-reportable).
  2. Up to 75% of normal surgical activity levels (including reportable and non-reportable).
  3. Up to 100% of normal surgical activity levels (including reportable and non-reportable), or as close to normal activity levels as is safely possible.

Each jurisdiction will decide when they will implement the three stages.

The level of elective surgery will be reviewed monthly from May 2020 by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, Murphy said.

The national cabinet has also agreed to a framework to inform decisions around lifting remote area travel restrictions, in order to help such communities and governments manage risk and respond to cases early.

While the national cabinet noted that there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities, it is focussed on ensuring that the “appropriate arrangements are in place to minimise the risks of transmission and manage any cases or outbreaks that may occur”.

The group will meet again on May 29.

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