The royal commission’s chair, Penny Armytage, told reporters it was clear the system was “failing”. (ABC News: Zalika Rizmal)
Victoria has ‘called time’ on a dysfunctional mental health system. What happens now?
Victoria will introduce a special tax as early as next year to help fund mental health services and fix the state’s “broken” system, following an interim report from a royal commission.
- Premier Daniel Andrews said the Government would adopt all of the report’s recommendations
- The commission called for the creation of new services and centres and an office to oversee major reforms
- One recommendation was for “a levy or tax” to provide operational funding for services into the future
In the report tabled in State Parliament, Victoria’s mental health royal commission said even though it was barely halfway through its work there were matters requiring “immediate action”.
The commission’s chair, Penny Armytage, said it was clear the system was “failing” and all the evidence the commission had heard had reinforced that fact.
“Everything we have heard has confirmed that poor mental health is a pressing yet largely ignored health crisis in Victoria,” she said.
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She said the interim report was not a “draft” of the commission’s final report, but had been produced to draw attention to issues needing urgent attention.
The report urged the Victorian Government to introduce “a levy or tax”.
Premier Daniel Andrews told Parliament the report was “harrowing” reading and his Government would implement all the recommendations in the report, including the levy.
The recommendations also included:
- An additional 170 acute mental health beds for young people and adults to meet demand
- The establishment of a mental health centre for excellence
- The establishment of a centre focused on culturally appropriate treatment for Aboriginal Victorians, to work closely with community-controlled organisations
- The expansion of follow-up care for people who have attempted suicide, and an outreach program for children and young people who have self-harmed or are at risk of suicide
- A residential mental health service designed and delivered by people with lived experience
- More funded nursing and allied health professional positions in high-need areas
- Mental health study scholarships for nurses and mandatory psychiatry rotations for all junior medical officers by 2023
- A “Mental Health Implementation Office”, funded for two years to make the necessary transformative changes to the system
Ms Armytage said there had been “chronic underfunding over decades” in mental health, partly due to the stigma and discrimination that prevented people from speaking about their experiences.
“[It’s] led to us, as a society, not demanding the level of investment that’s required,” she said.
“We think that it is the time for us to address what is a chronic issue where people have suffered in silence for way too long.”
‘Potentially billions’ of dollars needed to fund system
Mr Andrews — who committed his Government to implementing all of the royal commission’s recommendations before it began its work — said the levy was needed due to the price tag on the commission’s reforms.
“The cost of inaction is far, far greater and so much of it really can’t be measured,” he said.
“Because it is about lives lost.”
Mr Andrews said the Government would spend the summer looking at different levy models to raise “potentially billions” of dollars to fund the mental health system into the future.
He said the introduction of the levy was likely to be a “major part” of next year’s state budget and the Mental Health Implementation Office would be set up before the end of the year.
The levy would go towards a one-off capital fund as well as boosting ongoing funding, he said.
Opposition mental health spokeswoman Emma Kealy said the Coalition did not necessarily support the idea of a levy, arguing that the funds could be found elsewhere.
If the Opposition attempted to block the new levy, the Government would need crossbench support in the Upper House to pass it into legislation.
‘I finally feel heard’
For 21-year-old Amelia Morris, one of dozens of community witnesses who shared their experiences of the mental health system at the royal commission’s public hearings, the interim report finally offers a glimpse of hope.
“I finally feel heard, I finally feel validated that someone is listening,” she said.
At 16, Ms Morris tried to take her own life, after months of trying to access mental health care.
But even after her attempt, that care never came.
“I was discharged from hospital and just kind of let out into the wilderness… there was nothing there.”
Ms Morris said she hoped the reforms would spare others the pain she went through.
“I think the recommendations, if they’re implemented properly, will create real change and mean that another 16-year-old doesn’t have to go through what I did,” she said.
“For once I feel quite hopeful about the mental health system.”
Thousands of submissions before commission
The commission absorbed more than 10,000 submissions and heard public evidence from 96 witnesses who shared their personal and painful stories of grappling with mental illness.
Unlike other royal commissions, this one has not investigated Victorians’ cases of treatment or made findings about the conduct of specific service providers.
Instead, its focus has been on “what mental health services might look like in the future”.
Issues raised during the hearings included the lack of publicly funded services in regional Victoria, the lack of culturally appropriate services for Aboriginal Victorians and the fact that police officers are responding to a mental health call every 12 minutes.
The commission is due to deliver its final report in October 2020.
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