Mental health of the nation: Productivity Commission to investigate mental health spending

Amanda Lyons

9/10/2018 1:41:44 PM

Funding for mental health conditions in Australia has reached $9 billion across all states and territories. But is this effective, and is it enough?

The Productivity Commission will investigate the impacts of mental illness on the economy and the effectiveness of Australian mental health spend. (Image:  Daniel Pockett.)
The Productivity Commission will investigate the impacts of mental illness on the economy and the effectiveness of Australian mental health spend. (Image: Daniel Pockett.)

Mental health has become an issue of increasing concern in Australia, with one in five people experiencing a form of mental health condition every year and a rise in suicide rates across the nation.
However, as recognition of the impact of mental health issues has grown, so has governmental spending in this area, increasing from $2.9 billion in 1992–93 to $9 billion in 2015–16.
The Federal Government is now set to assess the effectiveness of this funding in detail, with the announcement earlier this week of an inquiry to be conducted by the Productivity Commission.
‘It is crucial that we know this funding is delivering the best possible outcomes for individuals and their families, and that is one of the issues the inquiry will investigate,’ Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.
News of the inquiry comes at a time when mental health has been recognised as perhaps the key issue in modern Australian general practice.
The RACGP’s General practice: Health of the nation 2018 report identified mental health issues as the most common single reason patients booked consultations with their GPs. GPs also consider mental health as the health issue causing them the most concern for the future, and as a key area that needs to be prioritised by the Federal Government for policy action.
‘For the second consecutive year, funding and mental health have been the major areas of concern for the profession, with financial support desperately needed in many areas,’ RACGP President-elect Dr Harry Nespolon wrote in the report’s introduction.
One of the main concerns for GPs in this area is a lack of recognition – and funding – of the time required for consultations focused on mental health issues.
‘It really should be recognised that it takes longer to treat someone with a mental illness,’ Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, prominent GP and past president of AMA Victoria, told newsGP late last year.
‘We are getting much better as GPs and as a society at diagnosing and treating mental illness, but not in the way we reward those GPs.’ 
The Productivity Commission, which will investigate the impact of mental illness on the Australian economy and whether current funding is being directed effectively, begins its consultations in the coming weeks. The Commission aims to include perspectives from a broad range of sources, and its investigation will include hearings in regional Australia and submissions from the public.
The final review will likely be completed within 18 months and will offer recommendations on measures to improve mental health services and initiatives.
‘This comprehensive inquiry will reveal the true impact of mental illness on the economy, and provide recommendations on how the Government can most effectively improve population mental health, and social and economic participation,’ Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

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