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Mental health groups want more data -

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Mental health groups want more data

Jennifer Macey reported this story on Thursday, August 27, 2009 12:22:00

ELEANOR HALL: Mental health groups say there's no way of knowing whether the increase in spending
on mental healthcare services in Australia is having a positive effect on the patients.

A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that the national bill for
treating mental illnesses is rising by 5 per cent each year.

But doctors say this is only keeping pace with general healthcare costs and they're calling on the
Federal Government not only to increase the funding for mental health but to improve the monitoring
of people with mental illnesses to test whether their treatment is working, as Jennifer Macey
reports.

JENNIFER MACEY: Ever since the Medicare rebate was introduced for mental healthcare services three
years ago there's been a surge in demand for psychologists like Rachel Abramson.

She works at a private practice in Melbourne but she says while her work load has increased she's
noticed a big change in the demographic with more lower income people making appointments.

RACHEL ABRAMSON: Look it has changed the demographic in that people that couldn't previously afford
psychological services are now able to access psychological services under Medicare.

Coming to see a psychologist on Medicare means that they can see a psychologist for up to 12
consultations per calendar year and then depending on what the psychologist charges there may be
very little outlay.

So it means that people who couldn't previously afford a psychologist can now comfortably do so.

JENNIFER MACEY: The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has just released the latest figures
for mental healthcare services in Australia for the years 2006 to 2007.

It found that 12 million visits to the GP were for mental health concerns - an increase of more
than 4 per cent since 2004.

Gary Hanson is the director of the institute's mental health unit.

GARY HANSON: Certainly general practitioners are often the first contact point for people with
mental health concerns and in 2006/07 there were about 550,000 claims against those GP mental
healthcare plan items and that increased in 2007/08 to 1.2 million claims. But that was only
introduced from November 2006 so it's probably a bit early to establish whether or not that is
plateauing or what is going on there.

JENNIFER MACEY: The report also found that spending for all mental health services including the
Medicare rebate, psychiatric hospital stays and subsidised prescriptions cost $4.7 billion in 2007.
This is an increase in more than 5 per cent each year over the past decade.

But Professor Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Institute at the University of Sydney says mental
health care spending isn't keeping pace with demand.

IAN HICKIE: Well I think there are two issues here. One is that mental health spending is
increasing but so is the whole of health spending. I mean health every year costs us more money as
a nation.

As a proportion of health spending we haven't really increased. We are barely keeping pace with
other increases in health spending.

So in terms of meeting the community need, we haven't really changed significantly in the last 15
years in the proportion of health spending spent on mental health and the treatment of people with
common mental health problems.

JENNIFER MACEY: The Mental Health Council of Australia says these figures offer only part of the
picture.

The deputy CEO of the council, Sebastian Rosenberg says there is little data to show whether people
are getting better after treatment.

SEBASTIAN ROSENBERG: What happens as a result of the interaction they have with GPs or indeed with
psychology under the Better Access program, these are the key questions. Does it mean that people
are able to go back to their lives and go back to their partners, their husbands, their wives,
continue with their work? What is the material benefit that people are getting in terms of their
actual quality of life?

JENNIFER MACEY: Professor Ian Hickie agrees that accountability must improve and he says
governments should increase mental healthcare funding.

IAN HICKIE: The Government should switch its attention to really reporting on an annual basis
outcomes rather than activity.

And as a proportion of health spending we need to follow the model that was set in the ACT of
saying realistically governments should have a target of spending over 10 per cent and possibly
spending up to 12 per cent of the health dollar on mental health.

So we still have failed to adequately fund community care and join up with the other employment
education services to put the money where we most need it: early intervention services in young
people, supporting people in housing, accommodation and employment to get their lives back while
providing the appropriate mental health treatment.

ELEANOR HALL: That's professor Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Institute at the University of
Sydney ending that report by Jennifer Macey.