More secure jobs for mental health workers

Marnie Banger
(Australian Associated Press)


Australians living in rural and remote areas are expected to have greater access to mental health services in the coming years, as the federal government shores up job security for some mental health workers.

Changes to funding arrangements for the 31 regional organisations that commission community mental health services across Australia mean they will have three years of guaranteed funding from July.

The organisations, known as Primary Health Networks, will receive $1.45 billion to deliver local services over those three years, which is $170 million more than they received in the previous three.

The PHNs have had inconsistent funding arrangements since they were created in 2015, forcing some mental health professionals to be on short-term contracts.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says the new process will prevent that.

“This will allow longer term planning, provide job certainty for thousands of people employed in the sector, and deliver a stronger mental health system,” he said on Wednesday.

“This will particularly benefit those living in rural and remote areas, where staffing shortages due to employment uncertainty have historically reduced access to mental health services.”

PHNs select mental health programs to run in their region based on local needs.

That includes coordinating services for young people and people with severe and complex mental illnesses, along with community-based suicide prevention programs and Indigenous mental health services.

“Since individuals in different communities face different challenges, it is important that services are tailored to meet the specific needs of the local population,” Mr Hunt said.

The PHNs will still have to meet agreed performance measures to have their funding extended by another year under the changes.

But assuming they meet their targets, they’ll always have three years of funding ahead.

About 200,000 Australians accessed 900,000 mental health services through local providers commissioned by the network’s in 2017-18.

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