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02 Mar 2015

The Federal Government has announced a one-year extension of funding for services supporting people suffering mental illness and their carers, allaying fears tens of thousands would be left stranded without help.

Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield has said contracts for organisations currently receiving funding to provide services under the Personal Helpers and Mentors program and the Mental Health Respite: Carer Support program would be extended to 30 June 2016, taking them through to the full implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme on 1 July next year.

The decision is a relief for the operators of around 150 federally-funded programs that were struggling to hold on to staff and plan ahead because of funding uncertainty.

Up to 4000 mental health workers were at risk of losing their jobs before the Government announced its decision.

“The extension of these contracts will ensure people living with mental illness, and those who care for them, can still access these support services,” Senator Fifield said. “This one-year funding extension will help ensure a smooth transition to the NDIS for these services.”

While the decision has provided short-term reassurance to many, the sector is still gripped by uncertainty as the Government sits on the results of a major review of the nation’s mental health system.

It is understood that the National Mental Health Commission delivered the results of its Government-commissioned inquiry into mental health services to the Minister in November last year, but the Government has so far withheld the findings, causing consternation among service providers, practitioners and patients.

The Australian Medical Students’ Association is among those calling on the Government to release the results of the review and use the forthcoming Budget to announce greater investments in mental health services.

AMSA President James Lawler said the Budget was the “ideal time” to act on the review’s findings and invest in severely underfunded mental health services, particularly for young people.

Shadow Mental Health Minister Jan McLucas, who has been pushing hard for the Government to release the Commission’s report, said that although she had misgivings about the competency of the Commission to undertake an inquiry focused on the finances of mental health services, now that the report had been completed, the fact that it would be used to steer Government mental health policy decisions meant it should be released immediately.

“It is absolutely essential that this [policy making] be done transparently, that the conversation is held in a way that each and every participant has an understanding of the direction of the Government,” Senator McLucas said. “We need an informed discussion about the future of mental health programs in the country.”

Senator McLucas has moved a motion in the Senate calling on the Government to the final report, as well as two interim reports provided to the Government in February and June.

The Government has so far resisted these calls.


Adrian Rollins

Published: 02 Mar 2015