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26 May 2015

At the end of last year the National Mental Health Commission (the Commission) report on the effectiveness of all existing mental health programmes across the government, non–government and private sectors was delivered to the Federal Government.  The report was publically released in April 2015 and will be used to help inform the Government's future decisions on mental health.  The Commission’s review can be downloaded here:–reports/review–of–mental–health–programmes–and–services.aspx

Since the release of this report, the Abbott Government has announced that it is working towards the revival of a national approach to improving mental health outcomes and access to support services long–term.  The Government has been working through the Review's 700 plus pages to develop what it describes as a considered and unified strategy to ensure the next steps that are taken deliver a genuine national approach.  The Government is reviving a dedicated COAG Working Group on Mental Health Reform to coordinate the reform the process.  The Government has asked the mental health sector to also play a direct part in the development of any policies and work hand–in–hand with Governments to develop this national approach.

The Government is also currently finalising the revival of an Expert Reference Group (ERG) to inform the entire process, including the development of short, medium and long–term strategies in the following four key areas based on the findings and recommendations presented in the Commission's Review.

  • Suicide Prevention
  • Promotion, prevention and early intervention of mental health and illness
  • The role of primary care in treatment of mental health, including better targeting of services
  • National leadership, including regional service integration. 

The ERG will also be supported by the following.

  • Broad stakeholder workshops to ensure mental services and organisations at the frontline can have direct input into this process.
  • A National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Mental Health Working Group.
  • An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group.
  • Setting better access to mental health services as a priority for the Government's new Primary Health Networks.
  • An inter–governmental approach to ensure Commonwealth agencies respond to the report's concerns about fragmentation of payments and services and better co–ordinate future systems and policies.

The Government has been careful to point out that the Commission’s report is a report to government, not of government.  The Minister for Health, The Hon. Susan Ley MP has made it clear that while many recommendations offer positive ideas, others are not conducive to a unified national approach, or require further investigation by experts, which will be coordinated through the COAG and ERG process.  Precise timings for the delivery of work will be finalised in consultation with the states and territories.  To ensure continuation of service delivery whilst the Government considers the outcomes of the Commission’s review, existing grants will be extended for 12 months to 30 June 2016.

The AMA Secretary General, Anne Trimmer, has written to the Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Health advising that the AMA is ready to inform and contribute towards the revival of a national approach to improving mental health outcomes, both through the ERG and as a member of stakeholder consultation groups and processes.  The AMA has advised that it is uniquely placed to assist in this work given it represents the experience and views of clinicians directly involved in the provision of mental health services and treatment, across primary and acute level care.

Published: 26 May 2015