Page 4138 - Week 13 - Tuesday, 15 November 2005

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Putting more money into new buildings located at hospitals—

That is, acute care hospitals—

doesn’t help people with mental illness stay well in the community.

The Mental Health Council of Australia contended that Canberra is ideally placed to develop more innovative, integrated and community-based services for people with mental illness, and this means providing a range of support services outside the hospital environment. Mr Mendoza said that effective community services “help keep people well and avoid the need for expensive acute inpatient care” and that the ACT government’s strategy “says nothing about providing long term accommodation options, it says nothing about providing step-up and step-down care, and provides no money for preventative mental health care”.

The really fundamental criticism of Mr Corbell, however, is in the council’s observation that:

We thought the Minister understood the issue of mental health. However, the strategy so far announced focuses only on acute hospital care for people who are already ill. … these buildings will not make a real difference to mental health care in Canberra.

This council has the expertise in dealing with mental health issues to know that this is so. The council also concluded that the approach that this government proposes to adopt is deficient. These are not my words; these are the comments of an organisation that is extremely well qualified to speak on these matters.

As I said a few moments ago, this government has failed with its recent announcement on mental health matters. It has failed not only those people who have a mental illness but also those people trying to provide appropriate care and treatment for those they look after.

The major policy driver for the first national mental health strategy was to achieve reduced reliance on stand-alone psychiatric hospitals. The purpose of this policy was to be an expansion of community-based and primary health care, with the focus of these programs being the provision of support for people with a mental illness within their community. The intention of this approach is to emphasise primary and preventative health care, particularly primary and preventative mental health care.

According to the Mental Health Council, the strategy has been successful in achieving the first objective, to the point where dedicated stand-alone institutions are now considered to be facilities of last resort. Of course, even though a number of psychiatric institutions have closed, there are still issues with some people who have mental health issues. As has been commented on many times by magistrates and the judiciary in the ACT, the institutionalisation of people with a mental illness has, in effect, been transferred to prisons and detention systems generally—or it has been replaced with isolation from the community, for example, through homelessness.

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