8 August 2022

By Gill Callister CEO Mind Australia

Mind welcomes the announcement of the new Strengthening Medicare Taskforce and its terms of reference, particularly the emphasis on universal health care for all and reducing disadvantage.

We know that people with serious mental health issues have significantly lower life expectancies than the general public. A meta-analysis of studies worldwide has estimated that people with mental illnesses have a mortality rate 2.2 times that of people without, and between 1.4 and 32 years of potential lost life. This reduction in life expectancy is well established by numerous studies and reviews.

This is not just related to mental health issues but very often for the co-occurring physical health issues that disproportionately affect this population. We know that these groups have frequent and often unplanned visits to Emergency Departments and are over represented in the groups that experience very long stays in hospital. They are also less likely to have a regular GP to support them to manage a range of complex health needs and are sensitive to out of pocket costs for healthcare.

We still have a fractured, uncoordinated mental health system despite investment in programs and the NDIS. People with significant mental health and wellbeing challenges frequently fall through the gaps. In a number of states there continues to be large numbers of people with psychosocial disability stuck in hospital because there is a lack of clarity between state and territory and Commonwealth governments as to whether they should be supported through the NDIS or through state funded rehabilitation programs. In the interim, people are unnecessarily stuck in the acute care sector, which is expensive and inhibits recovery. There is a very human cost to some of the inefficiencies and disagreements that governments have over funding.

There is also a lot more that the community based mental health sector - focused on rehabilitation, recovery and helping people rebuild their lives - could do in this space. We know our programs are effective in preventing unplanned visits to hospital. Our workforce is skilled, more accessible and, on average, more cost effective than the clinical workforce and we partner with the clinical health sector to support people’s wellbeing and recovery.

I would urge the Taskforce to think creatively about how we solve problems for those who are really disadvantaged through the current mechanisms of funding health care, and to see that this sector with 40 plus years of experience stands ready and willing to help. Both the NDIS and some of the very fractured ways of commissioning services through the Public Health Networks have not led to sufficient systemic change to shift outcomes for people living with mental ill health. It’s time they did.

Gill Callister is CEO of Mind Australia, a community-based mental health organisation with a long tradition of working with people with serious mental ill-health. She has dedicated her career to improving public policy and service delivery, particularly for vulnerable people in the community. Twitter: @GillCallister

If this article raises concerns for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders can also call 13 YARN (13 92 76) a 24/7 national crisis support telephone service staffed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

If you would like more information about Mind, please contact us by submitting a form via Mind Connect or phone: 1300 286 463.