Changes to mental health care for elderly ‘under way’

The Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt AM has said he is looking to hold a discussion with key sector people on mental health for ageing Australians in May, with a lot of policy activity under way which will make it easier for people with mental illness to get help they need.

“Older people in care are a particular concern,” he said at the launch of a report by Mind Health last week, which quantified the cost to replace informal mental health care with formal support services at $13.2 billion.

“That’s why aged care services such as the Community Visitors Scheme, dementia supports, and social support provided through the Commonwealth Home Support Program, are so important.”

“This is an issue I want to keep front of mind as we consider the future of aged care.”

“In short, there is a lot of policy activity under way which will make it easier for people with mental illness to get the treatment and therapy they need.

“It won’t remove the need for informal carers, who do an invaluable job out of love.”

“This vital role is something I want to make sure we preserve throughout the reform journey.”

Minister Wyatt said carer representatives were actively engaged in consultations on the Fifth National Mental Health Plan, which is set to be endorsed by COAG Health Council in August.

Last week a new mental health advisory panel was appointed to help improve services through primary health networks as the Government looks to change the way people access treatment and therapy.

Exactly what role the new advisory panel will play in this remains unclear, as its Terms of Reference have yet to be agreed.

Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan and National Mental Health Commission CEO Dr Peggy Brown have been appointed the inaugural co-chairs, and its broad remit is to provide guidance and advice to the 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs) on their mental health plans and service commissioning activities.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said that while PHNs should ensure that mental health services commissioned are accessible to, and meet the needs of, older Australians, they are not required to commission services specifically targeted at this cohort.

She said the Department is exploring the issue of improving access to psychological therapy services in residential facilities and is aware of concerns that residents are not eligible for Better Access services under the MBS.

Meanwhile a petition by COTA to reverse the historic anomaly that prevents older Australians in aged care accessing the same mental health services as everyone else in the community has upwards of 4,000 signatures.

COTA CEO Ian Yates said the petition will be closing soon, having achieved its goal of getting the issue onto the table.

Add your name to the petition here


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