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What do Australian mental health reforms mean for healthcare professionals?

Photo: What do Australian mental health reforms mean for healthcare professionals?
The progressive mental health reforms introduced by the Turnbull Government late in 2015 indicate improving attitudes towards mental health care in Australia. However, in order for the packages to be successful, the same care and diligence needs to be taken in the reform’s implementation as was taken in its creation.

The aim of these changes is to put patients first and foremost. If properly implemented, the new approach should improve the level of support provided to many Australians living with mental health issues. It should also have a positive impact economically, with money being saved down the line through early prevention and more effective treatment.
We must provide support during transitional phases
Integrated care packages mean greater flexibility for healthcare practitioners to provide tailored treatment plans. Instead of automatically being allocated 10 Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions, patients with severe and complex needs will have access to case-appropriate services, including drug and alcohol counselling.

However, unless we’re proactive during this transitional period, some mental health services may fall through the cracks – especially when treating patients who are already in the mental health system. When adding new services without additional funding, some older ones will have to be cut and replaced. We need to be diligent to ensure that patients do not fall through the gaps as these changes are phased in.

We’re already seeing this happen among some mental health organisations. Funding shake-ups for online mental health services saw government support for the Butterfly Foundation helpline set to be axed next year. While this service will be replaced by a new centralised “gateway”, strong healthcare leadership is integral to ensuring these transitions are effective and provide the best possible support to patients.

We need to develop strong healthcare leaders
With the mental health industry constantly evolving, there’s an ever-increasing demand for healthcare professionals equipped with strong leadership skills. By building mental health professionals’ capacity to lead, we’ll be able to take a more proactive and assertive role in establishing adequate services to transition towards.

There is ample opportunity to build better and more robust mental health networks during this transitional phase, and the new approach should indicate a better outlook for the field as a whole, however without adequate leadership we’re likely to see unnecessary struggles during periods of change.

To find out more about the future of healthcare leadership and the mental health industry, visit the Southern Cross University Online blog.

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