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  • Funding fix needed to help dire mental health system

    Author: AAP

Leading organisations warn the NSW mental health system is on the brink of collapse due to long-term underfunding and are calling on the government to invest more in the sector.

Despite enjoying the largest state budget, data shows NSW has invested the least per capita on mental health services over the past three years when compared to other states and territories.

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Rates of psychological distress have almost doubled over the past decade yet funding has not kept up.

While mental health represents 15 per cent of the total burden of disease in the state, it only receives five per cent of overall health-care funding.

Multiple advocacy groups, including the Black Dog Institute, the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses NSW and the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Psychiatrists have launched a campaign for funding to meet community demand.


"The fact is the NSW mental health system is critically underfunded and on the brink of collapse," Black Dog Institute chief scientist Samuel Harvey said on Monday.

"Across the state, we are seeing mental health services stretch to their limits, the mental health workforce is burnt out and people who need help are falling through the cracks."

A parliamentary inquiry is also examining the equity and accessibility of outpatient community mental health care in the state.

It has heard existing funding arrangements are creating perverse incentives for practitioners to spend less time with patients in need of services.

Consultant psychiatrist Karen Williams told the inquiry per-patient Medicare gap payments encouraged managers to push general practitioners towards shorter sessions and the current funding arrangements needed rethinking.

The Fully Fund Mental Health campaign is calling for year-on-year increases, a dedicated revenue stream to provide ongoing funds for services and priority funding for community-based programs for at-risk groups.

These include rural, regional and remote communities, economically disadvantaged communities and young people.

Royal Australian New Zealand College of Psychiatrists chair Angelo Virgona said other states were powering ahead on mental health reform.

"NSW is being left behind to the detriment of all its citizens," she said.

Mental Health Minister Rose Jackson said bolstering support in the sector was a priority for the government.

Analysis to identify short-term measures would be finalised soon, while the government was also working on long-term goals with the Alliance for Mental Health, she added.

"Throughout 2024, NSW Health will undertake a more thorough analysis to understand exactly what investment is required to comprehensively meet the mental health needs of people in NSW," Ms Jackson said.

"The alliance will play a vital role in this process, from this point we will be able to understand and explore what revenue or funding stream is required to bridge the gaps in our system."

The alliance also includes the peak psychiatrists' body, as well the Royal Australian College of GPs and Australian Medical Association, among other organisations.


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