Budgets missing the mark on mental health

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Preventative mental health programs and help for the elderly are glaring areas of need that governments are failing to address, a post-budget breakfast hosted by UCA Funds Management heard on Thursday.

At the event held in the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, UCA Funds Management CEO Mathew Browning introduced four speakers who discussed how the recent Victorian and Federal budgets affect the non-profit sector.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia director of global markets Bruno Bellon presented an overview of the two budgets.

He noted that Victoria had “far and away” the strongest performing economy in Australia and would continue to do so largely on the back of population growth, which allowed the state government to spend liberally.

Meanwhile, he characterised the Federal budget as “modest” with no stand-out announcements.

Despite Australia being a wealthy nation the Federal budget was “continuing a trend in recent years to get tougher on welfare recipients” and the New Start allowance had lagged far behind wages’ growth.

Mr Bellon said there was widening economic inequality with those at the top accelerating their wealth accumulation while those at the bottom stagnated.

Uniting AgeWell Chair Raelene Thompson welcomed extra funding in the Commonwealth budget for home aged care packages, even though it fell a long way short of meeting demand.

However, what was “astounding” to Ms Thompson was the continuing denial of mental health plans prepared by GPs to aged care home residents to treat issues such as depression.

Mental Health Victoria CEO Angus Clelland said that even though the state and federal budgets were committing large amounts of money to mental health it was a sector that had been “plagued by underinvestment for many years”.

This was especially the case in Victoria, even though 20 years ago the state was viewed as a leader in mental health service provision.

“Victoria has the lowest funding per capita for mental health of any state or territory, a sad distinction to have,” Mr Clelland said.

“We’re starting from a long way back from where we should be.”

However, Victoria is spending much-needed money on hospital beds and new crisis hubs for those requiring urgent treatment related to mental health and substance abuse issues.

Mr Clelland said there were 52,000 such emergency admissions every year in Victoria, meaning one person every 10 minutes.

This has led to an extraordinary strain on ambulance and police resources, with five to six police vans often “ramped” – meaning waiting in a queue – outside emergency departments waiting to admit the person inside.

Mr Bellon said what was missing from the state budget was funding for preventative and community-based mental health programs meaning problems were only being addressed at a crisis point.

“If we only focus on disruption we will be chasing our tail forever in this state,” Mr Bellon said.

He noted that some preventative services were actually being cut to help fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

“We need to be to be able to ensure prevention is the focus of the budgets,” Mr Clelland said.

“It’s a national disgrace, we need a hell of a lot more money to address that issue in Victoria and nationally.”

In his presentation Dean Boland, a principal at Deloitte Australia, also noted the changes happening due to the implementation of the NDIS, which he said after five years had been one third rolled out.

Mr Boland said that state and federal programs are being closed down to make way for the NDIS and this presented a risk that the clients and providers who straddled the two systems could fall into the widening gap.

During the panel session with all four speakers a question from the floor gave an example of this risk by citing the episodic nature of mental health issues that sometimes excluded sufferers from the NDIS.

MrClelland agreed this was a problem and one that governments needed to rectify.

“We need to take this to the politicians and make this into an election issue,” he said.

UCA Funds Management partnered with the Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte and Pro Bono Australia to put on the breakfast.




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