Funding mix  a hospital case

A MENTAL health campaign launched by the WA Association for Mental Health claims the McGowan government has muddled its funding priorities, dooming any attempts to reform the sector to failure.

The association is hoping its Prevent Support Heal campaign will gain traction in the lead-up to next year’s state election, particularly as Covid-19 continues to pick away at people’s mental health and puts increasing pressure on mental health services.

The association says the government has ignored its own mental health roadmap, Better Choices Better Lives 2015-2025, by pouring money into expensive in-hospital treatment programs while community support and prevention services have languished.

WAAMH CEO Taryn Harvey, a former Vincent councillor, says the unbalanced distribution of funding has led to gaps across WA’s mental health care system. 

“We have seen people with mental health challenges staying away from hospitals during the pandemic, meaning demand for community-based services has soared,” Ms Harvey said.

But despite Better Choices setting a target of increasing the proportion of funding for preventative services from 5 to 7 per cent of the overall mental health budget, WAMH claims it’s dropped to just 1 per cent.

Mental Health minister Roger Cook’s last big announcement for the sector was a 20-bed mental health unit at Fremantle Hospital.

An audit of the Mental Health Commission by the auditor general’s office in 2019 found there had been “limited progress” in implementing Better Choices, while increasing demand for community services hadn’t been matched by funding increasing, leading to people receiving less care.

“We’ve got a roadmap. We know what we need in this state. What we’ve lacked is the political will to make strategic reforms,” says Ms Harvey.

“Inadequate investment in prevention and community-based services puts pressure on other parts of the system.”

Ms Harvey says the minister’s approach risked turning hospitals in a revolving-door option for people with mental health issues.

“If you help people earlier on, they’re less likely to access those expensive clinical services.” Without support in the community, they were more likely to relapse after release and be back in a hospital.

Ms Harvey says the community support services’ slice of funding has also slumped to 5 percent – enough to meet just 20 per cent of the demand.

She claims the imbalance is reflected in more people presenting to hospital for suicidal thoughts and self-harm since the onset of Covid.

The Voice contacted the health minister Roger Cook’s office, but were told he could not provide a comment before deadline.

By KELLY WARDEN

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