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‘Costing lives’: States push Hunt for mental health funding overhaul

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The Productivity Commission report found admissions of mentally ill patients into hospital emergency rooms had jumped 70 per cent in the past 15 years, linking the increase to a lack of affordable services outside hospitals. It recommended the government lift the maximum number of Medicare-covered psychology sessions from 10 to 20 a year on a trial basis.

Mr Miles will seek to have this proposal written into the new four-year hospital funding agreement that is close to being finalised and will govern all Australian public hospitals from July.

Victorian Mental Health Minister Martin Foley said the state’s hospitals were in crisis, with the mentally unwell “slipping through the cracks” and having to “fight for care in a chaotic system”.

“Frankly, it’s costing lives,” Mr Foley said.

Australian College of Emergency Medicine president Simon Judkins said emergency rooms were under “enormous pressure” and investment was needed both inside and outside of hospitals.

“We are well past due for whole-of-system solutions to help ensure an integrated, working mental health system that truly meets the needs of patients and their families,” he said.

Experts say governments must act immediately on the commission’s 26 recommendations, which include a new funding model with pooled state and federal resources to be administered by regional commissioning authorities within states and territories.

Professor Ian Hickie from Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre said the challenge would be to ensure Canberra increased its investment in mental health and the states did not respond by reducing their own funding.

“We shouldn’t have to wait until May [when the final Productivity Commission report is due] to know where the Commonwealth and the states stand,” Professor Hickie said. “The work on this should start now.”

Psychiatrist and former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry said any changes must ensure national programs like Headspace were “strongly protected and built upon”.

We are well past due for whole-of-system solutions to help ensure an integrated, working mental health system.

Australian College of Emergency Medicine president Simon Judkins

Federal Labor’s health spokesman, Chris Bowen, said mental health care in Australia “needs a revolution, not an evolution” and promised bipartisan support for the commission’s recommendations “if we see substantial investment and change”.

“And we will hold them to account if there is not substantial reform,” Mr Bowen said.

The Victorian government’s mental health royal commission is due to release its interim report next month.

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