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So-called Budget mental health funding boost is a cut in real terms

The Government’s big Budget promises of additional mental health funding are nothing more than a cruel deception on people already struggling to get the help they need, says the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).

The two organisations have looked more closely at the Government’s so-called $224 million funding ‘boost’ for mental health announced last week and found that the claims don’t add up.

“When we took the figures apart to understand what the Government was going to pay for and where the extra money was, we found that it was all smoke and mirrors,” says CTU Economist and Director of Policy Bill Rosenberg.

His analysis, carried out with the ASMS, indicated the health system’s publicly-funded mental health services in 2017/18 would receive just $18 million in extra funding. That’s an increase of about 1.2%, which works out to a cut in real terms. A 7.3% funding increase is needed in 2017/18 just to maintain the mental health services we already have, given client numbers are increasing at about 5% a year – and more money is needed if the Government wants to improve access to services.

The detailed analysis, including a breakdown of the figures, is at 

ASMS Director of Policy & Research Lyndon Keene described the Government’s mental health funding announcement as a politically-motivated, contrived response to the public’s deepening concern about the lack of adequate resourcing for mental health services.

“The Government is trying to appear responsive to these concerns without actually doing anything to improve the services. Election year anyone?

“This analysis confirms what patients and their families, and the people working in mental health, have been saying for some time – the cupboards are bare. Telling district health boards to do better simply isn’t good enough if the reality is they don’t have the resources they need.”

The pressures on mental health services have been highlighted in a report from the Auditor-General, just published as well as news reports about the personal impact.

Bill Rosenberg noted that government failure to adequately invest in mental health services to tackle unmet need incurred economic as well as health and social costs. For instance, studies in England and Canada put the total economic cost of mental illness, including the cost of unmet need, as high as 4% of GDP.
“There are real people behind these numbers and we know they are already finding it hard to access the mental health services they need. The Government needs to put away its magic tricks and doing some real to improve mental services.”

PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk believes the Government’s Budget ‘announcement’ does a disservice to staff working in mental health, and trivialises the very real consequences of continued underfunding.
“Placating the mental health system with imaginary money for the sake of a quick media soundbite has a significantly demoralising effect on workers and patients.”

“Our members in mental health have been crying out for better wages and conditions for a long time. For them, PR noise like this means more disillusionment and burnout when they can’t provide the services demanded on such stretched resources.”
“For the patients, it means more distress, serious harm and suicide.”