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Mixed Reaction to Mental Health Expert Group

23 June 2015 at 10:57 am
Xavier Smerdon
There has been a mixed reaction to the Federal Government’s appointment of an Expert Reference Group to advise the Government on the implementation of a national review of mental health programs and services.

Xavier Smerdon | 23 June 2015 at 10:57 am


Mixed Reaction to Mental Health Expert Group
23 June 2015 at 10:57 am

There has been a mixed reaction to the Federal Government’s appointment of an Expert Reference Group to advise the Government on the implementation of a national review of mental health programs and services.

The National Mental Health Commission which completed the Review has welcomed the Expert Reference Group which was set up to help guide the implementation of its recommendations for reforming mental health programs and services across Australia.

Commission Chair, Professor Alan Fels said that the 13 members of the Expert Reference Group, chaired by former beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell AO, had an important task ahead of them.

“The Commission welcomes (Health) Minister Ley’s commitment to engaging the sector on the implementation of the report recommendations and moving quickly to finalise an action plan by October 2015," Professor Fels said.

"In launching the review, we said that Australia had a transformational opportunity to tackle the individual, social and economic costs of mental ill-health if it makes mental health a priority, and we commend the Minister for her leadership in doing so.

“It’s important that implementation of the review’s recommendations and actions commences as soon as possible because the review lays out what is a long term plan for reforms."

Professor Fels said the review provided a strong, achievable and practical plan for modernising and reforming Australia’s mental health system and ultimately improving the lives of millions of Australians.

However the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Jan McLucas said there was increasing concern in the mental health sector that key groups had been shut out of the Abbott Government’s agenda on mental health reform.

“Stakeholders are troubled that the reference group excludes the voice of consumers’ and carers’ groups, including from the non-government sector generally responsible for the delivery of services to people living with mental illness, their carers and families,” McLucas said.

“While I have no criticism of the people appointed to the reference group, there is an undeniable lack of focus on mental health consumer and carer peak bodies or the non-Government sector.

“I urge the Minister to broaden the membership of the Expert Reference Group in recognition of the important role they will play in delivering a better and stronger system of mental health in our country.”

However, Minister for Health Sussan Ley said the Government had consulted closely with the mental health sector about their views on the reviews’ final recommendations and the most appropriate and practical ways to implement them to bring about real change for people with mental illness.

Ley said the 13-person Expert Reference Group would engage with the wider mental health sector directly to support real-time, face-to-face feedback to inform an implementation action plan.

“It’s clear from our consultations with the wider mental health sector following the release of the Mental Health Commission’s Review that while there is broad support, there are still implementation issues to be ironed out,” Ley said.

“That’s why this Expert Reference Group is so important to ensure the mental health sector and Government work together closely to ensure recommendations can be practically implemented from paper to policy as we finalise our action plan over the next few months.

“The Expert Reference Group includes experts from across the mental health sector including primary care, suicide prevention, research, consumer representation, psychiatry, psychology and youth mental health.

“This group brings together extensive personal and professional experience and along with broad sector engagement would result in real improvements for mental health patients.”

Ley said while the Expert Reference Group would first focus on the policy and program changes which are within the direct responsibilities of the Commonwealth, it would inform Commonwealth input to the new National Mental Health Plan being developed with States and Territories.

“In the coming months, I will be working closely with my State and Territory Government colleagues to develop a new National Mental Health Plan,” she said.

“Advice from the Expert Reference Group, as well as broader consultation being undertaken by the Department of Health, will feed into these discussions.”

The full list of committee members and terms of reference of the Expert Reference Group can be found at the Department of Health's website.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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