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Backlash over funding cuts to "crisis" mental health services

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A group of non-government mental health providers is protesting millions of dollars in funding being transferred to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, saying its services aren’t appropriate for clients in crisis and will increase pressure on hospital emergency departments.

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The Mental Health Coalition of South Australia (MHCSA) – the state’s peak non-government organisation campaigning for mental health sector – said a broad range of psychosocial support, day and group, and mutual self help services will be impacted when the cuts take effect on July 1.

The $6.8 million state funding will end at the beginning of the financial year, with users of the programs expected to switch over to Individual Psychosocial Rehabilitation Support Services supported by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) under the Commonwealth.

Services that will be affected include, among others, Catherine House, UnitingSA, Neami National, Mind Australia, Skylight and Diamond House.

MHCSA has launched a petition asking Health and Wellbeing Minister Stephen Wade, Premier Steven Marshall and Treasurer Rob Lucas to reverse withdrawing direct state funding to South Australia’s mental health services.

To be presented to State Parliament on Monday, the petition reads: “When fully implemented this cut will create savings to the SA Department of Health and Wellbeing will be around $6.8m but the losers will be some of the most vulnerable South Australians and their families.”

Wade said the former State Labour Government signed the “funding transfer” deal with the Federal Government.

He also said there had been “no reduction in funding for disability or mental health services” and the $6.8 million had been transferred to the NDIS to support the programs and the new patients.

“Based on the bilateral agreement signed between the Federal Government and the former State Labor Government for the NDIS, state funding for disability services is transferred to the NDIS as clients transfer,” said Wade.

This has nothing to do with a State Budget decision. It has everything to do with an NDIS agreement that the former Labor Government signed.

This is exactly how the transition was proposed to happen.

“No current mental health clients in SA Health-funded psychosocial programs should be disadvantaged as a result of NDIS transition arrangements.”

Wade also said 25 per cent of clients in the Individual Psychosocial Rehabilitation Support Services (IPRSS) – a partnership program providing one-on-one rehabilitation for people living with a mental illness – had been approved under the NDIS umbrella.

Shadow Minister for Health and Wellbeing Chris Picton agreed the cuts to mental health funding were “devastating”, however that Labor presented the Mental Health Services Guarantee in the election which would ensure “this exact situation didn’t happen.”

“It is very disappointing the Liberal Government is cutting this funding rather than ensuring services continue,” Picton told InDaily.

“These services are all full with waiting lists. There is huge unmet need and these cuts are going to make the situation much worse.”

MHCSA executive director Geoff Harris questioned the appropriateness of the move of money to the NDIS and out of these programs, saying that demand on emergency departments and the homeless sector will only increase.

“NDIS is designed to provide life-long disability support for a relatively small cohort of people who have severe mental illness and disability arising from that, whereas the state mental health system needs to support people around a crisis in their mental health,” he said.

“There was a decision of the State Government to hand over a large quantity of money to the NDIS, or to the Commonwealth, and that money has come from a range of cuts. This is one of them.

“While the NDIS will provide disability support to some people in South Australia, we still need a mental health system that works effectively for the people who need it and it shouldn’t be a trade-off.

“The state mental health system needs to support people around a crisis in their mental health and part of the reason why they’re really important to the state system is that they reduce the numbers of people going to emergency departments to get support.

“The petition is really to demonstrate to government the community can take no more reductions in service when there’s already a high level of unmet demand.”

Last night Adelaide City councillor Robert Simms called on the State Government to reconsider the reduction in funding, warning of “the adverse impact this could have on vulnerable people in the city of Adelaide”.

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