South Australian mental health workers told an Australian Services Union survey that they were aware of clients, or former clients, that had been admitted to hospital as a result of losing access to the Personal Helpers and Mentors program (PHaMs).
PHaMs helps people with severe mental illness recover their ability to manage daily activities and live more independently in the community. The program serves more than 1000 clients across SA.
As InDaily reported earlier this year, some of those clients credit the service with saving their lives and preventing them from needing hospital care.
But as of July, funding for the service has been transitioning onto the NDIS – meaning clients have to apply to receive it and meet the scheme’s eligibility criteria.
Workers say many who have used PHaMs for years have been rejected access.
One mental health worker, who spoke to InDaily on condition of anonymity fearing professional consequences, said they had clients who had presented to hospital emergency departments after learning that they would no longer have access to the service.
“We’re seeing a considerable number not being approved,” the worker said.
“(There is) a genuine concern that they won’t be supported any more in the community.
“Safe to say more than half are not being approved at this point.”
The worker said people with severe mental health conditions struggled to meet the criteria within the new funding model because their conditions were episodic and chronic rather than consistent and chronic.
In total, 20 mental health workers out of the 37 who responded to the survey question said they were aware of mental health clients previously receiving support through PHaMs who had presented to emergency departments in the weeks and months following the funding cuts.
A spokesperson for the union said it was not clear how many former clients this represented in total.
The results of the survey are contained within a submission to state parliament’s Social Development Committee, which is looking into the impact of the NDIS transition on mental health services.
“(Former PHaMs clients presenting to emergency) is an inexcusable outcome for vulnerable South Australians and demonstrates that this funding should be reinstated,” the submission reads.
“Prior to the March State Election the SA Labor Party committed to funding the gap created by federal government cuts to PHaMs.
“In the continued absence of federal action the new SA Liberal Government must step in.”
Asked about the impact of the reduced funding pool, workers’ comments to the survey included:
- “Hospitalisation, homelessness, social isolation, general deterioration in general health, the list goes on.”
- “Inability to access services which were free and easy to access and now require NDIS eligibility and NDIS funding. Clients experiencing insecurity and at risk of self-harm and suicide.”
- “Fear, anxiety, panic attacks, emergency (department) admission.”
- “Lack of hope, poor health, non compliance, homelessness, self-harm.”
One worker told the survey that they had seen no impact from the funding change.
SA Health Minister Stephen Wade told parliament this week that he wrote to the Federal Government in June to express his concern over the changes and that he had set up a task force to monitor their impact.
“I asked the South Australian Chief Psychiatrist to establish a task force to provide detailed information and advice regarding the interface between mental health and the NDIS, both during the transition period and at full scheme,” he said.
“That task force first met on 28 June (and) has broad membership across the sector, including, I am delighted to say, the commonwealth.
“When the Chief Psychiatrist and I first discussed it, we were not confident that the Commonwealth would come to the table … I am delighted that they have.”
Wade said he had also asked the August meeting of the COAG Health Council to monitor the transition of mental health clients on to the NDIS, and any resulting service gaps, and that the council had endorsed the proposal.
The National Disability Insurance Agency argues that it is too early to know whether a “funding gap” exists in the area.
“It is too early to make a judgement about any possible gap regarding predicted and realised percentages of mental health clients receiving NDIS support for the reasons outlined above,” its submission to the parliamentary committee reads.
“In addition, and as noted further below, SA and the Commonwealth are continuing to assist clients to test their access, particularly where this cohort of clients may not have progressed through the access process for a variety of reasons.
“This includes where the NDIA has been unable to contact them, or where potential participants have not submitted access request forms or further evidence when requested.”
InDaily contacted federal Health Minister Greg Hunt for comment, but he is yet to respond.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call LifeLine on 13 11 14 – or you can call the Mental Health Triage Service / Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service on 13 14 65.
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