APHA backs new mental health plan

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The Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) has welcomed the Federal Government’s new plan for mental health care in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As well as a $48.1 million investment in mental health services, a new deputy chief medical officer role has been created to oversee its delivery, while the private sector has also agreed to make treatment more accessible.  

Victoria’s former chief psychiatrist Ruth Vine has been appointed as one of five deputies for Chief Medical Officer Brendon Murphy, who said she will work alongside National Mental Health Commission CEO Christine Morgan.

APHA CEO Michael Roff said he looked forward to working with Associate Professor Vine to promote good mental health care in Australia.

“Private psychiatric hospitals provide important care to Australians, particularly in the most prevalent mental health disorders – anxiety and depression,” he said.

Australians have been hit hard by the outbreak, with almost 600,000 people losing their jobs in April and another 489,000 leaving the labour force – though not counted in unemployment statistics.

Lockdown restrictions have put pressure on mental wellbeing and exacerbated existing issues for many people, according to mental health support organisation Beyond Blue.

Mr Roff said Australians can access a once-in-a-lifetime, immediate upgrade of their private health insurance to access private psychiatric hospital care should they need it.

“Private hospitals have entered into agreements with the Federal and State/Territory Governments to meet the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. As experts are predicting a considerable uptick in mental health stressors for Australians as a result of the pandemic, the services provided by private mental health facilities will be essential,” he said. 

Mr Roff said it was important to recognise that a lot of people who need care now do not have private health insurance.

“Public and private sectors, Commonwealth and States need to work together,” he said. 

The new government funding came after the National Cabinet agreed to the Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response plan.

Its three main goals are:

  • Data and modelling – so responses are targeted and more agile
  • Outreach – making sure treatment is provided to people disproportionately affected by the pandemic
  • Connectivity – linking services and support networks at national and local levels

Beyond Blue chair Julia Gilliard said the plan was “a step towards delivering some of the changes people, families and communities have needed in this country for a long time.” 

The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, which submitted its research to Health Minister Greg Hunt ahead of the National Cabinet meeting, welcomed the emphasis on predictive modelling.

“With investment in real-time data and targeted outreach, we can start to reach the people who need support,” said its co-director of health and policy, Professor Ian Hickie.

“However, much more is really required. Not so much money as fundamental rearrangement of how we use both our public and private health services to care for those most in need,” he added.

Read more: Perth to get historic new mental health clinic

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