Budget’s investment in mental health still wanting on much-needed reforms

07 October 2020

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has used the federal government’s announcement of additional allocations for mental health funding in the 2020–21 Budget to reaffirm its call for more fundamental system reform.

‘We welcome the government’s $5.7 billion in mental health funding over the next year, including its ongoing efforts to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of Australians through the pandemic, and its continued commitment to suicide prevention as a national priority,’ said RANZCP President Associate Professor John Allan.  

‘The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the many cracks in the mental health system and we have seen some well-targeted investments in mental health from governments in recent months, but we are still missing that fundamental investment in redesigning a mental health system we so urgently need now and into the future.

‘It is unfortunate on Budget night that we still haven’t seen the long-awaited final report of the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health which went to the government in June – without the blueprint for comprehensive mental health sector reform it is difficult to move beyond short-term and discrete injections of funding.

‘What we require is a fundamental reshaping of what we are doing in mental health if we are going to get through this challenging period and really improve people’s lives and the economy.

‘We need novel and bold solutions to address the major – and decades old – system weaknesses, fragmentation, inconsistencies and service gaps which factor too much in people’s mental health care experiences today.

‘This means real root and branch structural reform involving changes to the way in which federal and state governance and funding works so as to instill a better single source of funding to reduce waste and the duplication of services, and to improve care co-ordination and patient outcomes.

‘There are also real issues with the maldistribution of our mental health workforce and the lack of access to services for people residing in regional, rural and remote areas that you might be able to find in the city.’

The RANZCP President highlighted the need for greater certainty in long-term investment by governments to both mitigate the mental health effects of the recession and to ensure we can all contribute economically.

‘There is a strong link between the economy and mental health which has become obvious to all through this pandemic, and a long-term commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians has a role to play in supporting the country’s road out of both COVID-19 and the recession.

The RANZCP is particularly pleased to see the funding of an additional 10 training places each year for psychiatrists to specialise in veterans’ mental health care which will increase the capacity of the future psychiatry workforce to address the unique occupational risks associated with military roles.

‘We also cautiously welcome the government’s proposal to offer community-based mental health services through private health insurance. This will require full consultation with medical and community sectors to ensure it continues to be person-centred and integrated into the wider mental health system.

‘We look forward to the imminent tabling of the Productivity Commission’s final report for more details on the government’s reform agenda for mental health and working together to see these through.’

Key mental health Budget announcements included:

  • Ongoing support for telehealth services
  • Funding for implementation of recommendations from the MBS Review Taskforce
  • Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions up from 10 to 20 sessions nationally ($100.8m)
  • Mental health support services for people impacted by the 2019–20 bushfire emergency ($50.3m)
  • Additional 10 training places each year for psychiatrists to specialise in veterans’ mental health care
  • Additional research program funding for the (Black Dog Institute and Everymind) Prevention Hub ($2.1m)
  • Expansion of Individual Placement and Support program to support young people with mental illness into the workforce
  • Increased availability of grief and trauma support services for aged care ($12.5m)
  • More aged care specialist counselling teams to provide expert psychosocial services ($11.3m)

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 Andy Newton on +61 (0)3 9640 0646 or +61 437 315 911, or email media@ranzcp.org.