This day, at this very time 12 months ago I was gathering with my brother and sister-in-law and family and friends to say farewell to our beloved Jeff Mendoza. At 37, after battling a wicked mixture of brain and mind disorders initiated following his stint in the Australian Defence Force, he was gone.
As I said on that day, “he served his nation, but when he needed his nation to provide service to him, it failed - dismally”. It was the saddest and most gut wenching day of my life.
Twelve months from that dark day, we have the boldest, most transformative reform package on mental health in a generation announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. He was joined at the announcement by Health Minister, Sussan Ley, the Chair of the National Mental Health Commission Professor Allan Fels and Commissioner Ian Hickie.
Jeffery would be impressed.
What was announced today responds directly and decisively to the core problems in mental health care identified in a continual 10-year public critique and published in truckloads of reports to government.
Finally we will see an end to the sort of ‘mental health care system’ that mirrors the old Soviet automotive industry – the one car, in one colour and only available after an eternal wait!
Finally we have our Prime Minister defining an architecture that:
provides individualised and seamless support, to enable the right care at the right time from the right mix of providers to enable people to live fulfilling lives,
is locally planned and integrated, and not ‘one size fits all’
is focussed on the needs of people, not providers,
uses available and emerging digital technologies,
emphasises clinical excellence and improved outcomes,
foreshadows bundled packages of health and social care for those who have complex needs and entrenched disadvantage and
has a planned and phrased rollout of the reforms.
Importantly the reform package states loud and clear that the Commonwealth will transform the delivery of primary care - delivered by GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists - and community care - largely delivered by non-government providers.
The Commonwealth has reasserted its role in providing national leadership on mental health reform and sets out new rules of engagement with the states and territories for the next National Mental Health Plan.
The Minister, Sussan Ley, has clearly signalled she wants a ‘conversation’ with the state and territory ministers to ensure we get integrated care and not the same old zero sum games of the past. There is a real opportunity for genuine collaboration – one which I know a number of state ministers are up for.
The National Mental Health Commission in its report to the then Abbott Government in December last year said “In this report, the Commission proposes a new system of architecture to redesign, redirect, rebalance, repackage and ultimately reform the approach to mental health in Australia”.
Well like a diligent client, the Turnbull Government has done its due diligence, its quantity surveying of that plan, and resoundingly signed off.
The Government must now show the same diligence in building the new system and follow-through on the key themes and priorities it has spelt out today. It must focus on building locally relevant data, systems, accountability and leadership.
Transformation can and must happen within 10 years. We, as families, as communities and as a nation, cannot afford failure.
e will know we have transformed Australia’s mental health care system when we no longer hear the euphuism of ‘people falling through the cracks’. We will know we have achieved the vision announced today when any Australian can find care that is responsive to and respectful of their mental health needs when and where needed.
As posted in The Drum, 26th November 2015