Tony’s $1.8bn reasons to smile

Written By komlim puldel on Minggu, 15 Februari 2015 | 23.08

Government commits $1.8 billion to fund mental health services under the NDIS. Picture Thinkstock. Source: Supplied

EXCLUSIVE: Nearly 60,000 people with a severe mental illness will share an extra $1.3 billion in funding — the single biggest boost under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The states and the commonwealth currently spend $450 million a year on community mental health services. When the NDIS becomes fully operational in July 2016 that will increase to $1.8 billion a year, News Corp Australia can reveal.

And hundreds of thousands of people suffering less severe mental problems who currently access government-funded services but don't qualify for the NDIS are being assured their help will continue.


Concern has been mounting about how the NDIS would cover people with a mental illness and whether those with less severe problems would continue to get support outside the NDIS.

Assistant Minister for Social Services, Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield, has provided new funding and a series of guarantees on mental health just weeks before 200,000 mentally ill Australians were set to lose $250 million in funding for services that help them live in the community.

Up to 4000 mental health workers were at risk of losing their jobs if the funding dried up on June 30, 12 months before the NDIS will be fully rolled out.

The developments come as the government is under pressure from peak mental health groups to make public the National Mental Health Commission's review of mental health services which was handed to the government in December.



Community based mental health programs save taxpayers money by keeping people out of hospital. Picture: Thinkstock. Source: ThinkStock

Minister Fifield will announce on Monday that the government will extend funding for the Personal Helpers Mentors Program (PHaMs) and the Mental Health Respite: Carer Support program Mentors program until 30 June 2016.

The funding extension will ensure supports are maintained as the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme continues across the country, Mr Fifield said.

"The Australian Government is committed to supporting people who are severely impacted by

mental illness, as well as those who care for them," Minister Fifield said.

"The extension of these contracts will ensure people living with mental illness and those who care for them can still access these support services."

However, he says the funding arrangements for providers who deliver services under the PHaMs scheme will change as they prepare to operate in an open market under the NDIS.

Mental Health Australia chief Frank Quinlan welcomed the funding certainty.

"We really look forward to co-designing what mental health services will look like under the NDIS," he said.

"We will be working to ensure people who get services now will continue to get them into the future.

"We need to intervene early because it saves money in the long term," he said.

Mental health programs provide respite care, skills training and day to day care. Picture: Thinkstock Source: Supplied

More than one in five Australians suffers from a mental illness and the majority fail to get any help from current programs with many repeatedly admitted to hospital beds costing $900 a day.

The minister says the NDIS will provide community supports to around 57,000 people with psychosocial disability, who need assistance to live independently in the community.

Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia chief David Meldrum says there are fears some of the funding for the mental health services may be diverted to the NDIS when only as few as one in three of the clients that use the current services will qualify for an NDIS package.

Mental Health Australia chief Frank Quinlan says evidence out of the Victoria NDIS trials suggest 85 per cent of people currently getting help under a government program were getting help from the NDIS.

"We think the reason is there is nothing else," he said.

Minister Fifield says "here is no evidence so far" that large numbers of people currently helped by government funded programs are going to miss out on eligibility for the NDIS.

Senator Mitch Fifield has announced new funding for mental health. Picture Aaron Francis News Corp. Source: News Corp Australia

"Until a reasonable sample of participants in these community mental health programs have been assessed by the NDIA, it is unclear if there are particular groups of people who currently benefit significantly from these programs who will no longer be able to access this support because they are not eligible for the NDIS," he said.

"People who are currently receiving mental health services who are not eligible for the NDIS will continue to have access to a wide range of community supports and assistance," he said..

Health Minister Sussan Ley, whose department also funds mental health program where funding is due to run out on June 30, said the Government was currently working to give organisations certainty as soon as possible.

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley (right) is yet to clarify health department funding for mental health programs. Picture: Ross Marsden / News Corp Australia Source: News Corp Australia

The government had already given this commitment to Mental Health Australia and other organisations last week.

"This Government recognises the important work many mental health organisations across the country undertake every day and we're committed to working with the sector to continue to deliver frontline services to those who need it," Ms Ley said.

"I've already begun consulting with mental health organisations and have reassured the sector that decisions about funding will be made as soon as possible."

David Meldrum says existing community based mental health programs "are extremely good value for money, they keep people out of hospital with their families and give their families respite care," he said.

Forty per cent of services surveyed by the peak lobby group said they had already lost staff due to the funding uncertainty, and half had been forced to reduce their services.

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