"If not now, when?" Psychiatrists in despair at the mental health underspend in today's budget

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) says the New South Wales Government's latest budget does not go far enough to address the persistent gaps in the state’s mental health system. NSW trails almost all other states and territories in Australia with the lowest per capita spending on mental health.

Dr. Pramudie Gunaratne, Chair of the RANZCP NSW Branch, said that despite constructive conversations with the Government, these good intentions are not reflected in the funding of desperately needed services. As a result, NSW is falling even further behind other states. 

“If our mental health system was buckling before, it is broken now. For many people with mental illness in the state, there is literally nowhere to turn for help.

“Demand for mental health services is skyrocketing. Our wards are full, forcing us to send patients home prematurely to make room for others. Community teams are overwhelmed and can only accept the most severely unwell.”

According to the Government’s gap analysis report, there are an estimated 58,000 people in NSW with severe and complex mental health concerns who are currently unable to access care because of lack of services, funding, and staff.    

“When lifesaving mental health care is too far away, too long a wait, too expensive, too difficult to navigate or simply non-existent, people’s conditions become harder to treat and they fall through the cracks.

“A critical and chronic shortage of mental health workers in the state contributes heavily to that. Those remaining in the system feel helpless and exhausted and are on the brink of burnout and resignation.

“Piecemeal funding is not enough. We need substantial and targeted investment in mental health, informed by data about where the gaps are, how wide and how many.

The NSW Branch of the RANZCP has welcomed a number of commitments made by the Minns Government, including:

  • $30.4 million for community mental health teams over four years.
  • $40 million for the pathways to community living initiative over four years.
  • $39 million for a mental health single front door over four years.
  • $2.4 million for the mental health review tribunal over four years.
  • $5.1 billion to build 8,400 social homes including priority homes for survivors of domestic and family violence.
  • $245.6 million for programs to reduce domestic, family and sexual violence.
  • $130.9 million for the Family Start Package to boost maternal and child health services.
  • $2.4 million to support LGBTQ+ people and families to address higher prevalence of co-occurring mental health conditions.
  • $527 million for crisis housing and homelessness services, including funding for people leaving correctional centres and mental health services, and priority groups including women, First Nations and CALD communities.  

Dr Gunaratne commended Minister for Mental Health Rose Jackson and the NSW Government for making an important start towards reforming the state’s mental health system but said that an overhaul requires ongoing Government attention.

“Inquiry after inquiry, including the recent Upper House inquiry and the interim workforce gap analysis, have told us that our mental health system is in crisis. What we need is urgent and swift action.

“The funding we have is just a drop in the ocean of the funding we actually need to meet people’s needs.

“If not now, when?”

In their pre-budget submission, the RANZCP has identified a number of issues the State Government must invest in, including community mental health services for older persons and a state-wide trauma service for people experiencing trauma-related disorders.

“Without an available workforce, hospitals and clinics are just empty buildings. It's the people inside who make the real difference.

“We need to attract, train and retain more mental health workers in the system, and incentivise them to practise in areas with the greatest need.

“And we need to make sure that people can get the specialist care they need early and easily to provide the best opportunity for recovery.

“Investing in mental health is also a wise economic decision. Untreated mental illnesses strain emergency departments and lead to higher healthcare costs, lost productivity, and social issues like homelessness and crime.

“We still have a long way to go, and we are keen to work with the State and Commonwealth governments to make sure that no one in NSW is left without the help they need,” Dr Gunaratne said.

For all other expert mental health information visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.

ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call Dishi Gahlowt on +61 437 315 911 or email media@ranzcp.org.  

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments and other groups on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit www.ranzcp.org.

In Australia: If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au or the Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 467 or www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au.

In New Zealand: If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline NZ on 0800 543 354 or www.lifeline.org.nz or the Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 828 865 or www.lifeline.org.nz/suicide-prevention.


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