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Thousands of ‘invisible’ Victorians at risk

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch) is calling on Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to save a proven mental health nursing model that supports people with a severe and persistent mental illness.

The lives of thousands of Victorian clients accessing the program are now at risk with the Turnbull Government’s decision to allow the Primary Health Networks to end contracts with services using experienced specialised mental health nurses.

Mental health nurses are concerned that these patients, with complex, trauma-based mental illness will not be able retell their mental health histories to new health professionals and will stop seeking treatment and support. They also have concerns about an impossible seven-week period for the transfer of patients to new services which will struggle to recruit mental health nurses.

The ANMF understands the Western Victorian Primary Health Network will lose eight mental health nurses in the Ballarat area.

The Murray Primary Health Network catchment will lose five mental health nurses in the Mildura and Swan Hill area and another four to five nurses will be made redundant in Wangaratta, Wodonga, Benalla, Beechworth and Yarrawonga areas.

Established in 2007, the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program uses a bulkbilling, GP-led one-stop-shop model of mental health nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists working together. The mental health nurses provide co-ordinated care with interventions from the acute phase through to identifying the need for and referring for medical and dental appointments and NDIS advocacy.

The Turnbull Government’s 2017-18 funding quarantine for the program formally ends in July when Primary Health Networks move to the ‘fully flexible’ funding pool. Funding will also stop for mental health nursing programs in secondary schools in the Sunraysia and Bendigo areas which have focused on youth suicide prevention.
Primary Health Networks tendered for their mental health services and recently advised organisations, such as Tristar Medical Group, which had been providing the services that they have been unsuccessful.

ANMF understands the replacement organisations are still advertising for staff and already have long waiting lists. ANMF is seeking information about how the Primary Health Networks will manage the delicate transfer of thousands of clients who have long-term, trusted therapeutic relationships with the mental health nurses.
ANMF (Vic Branch) Assistant Secretary Pip Carew said ‘Mental health nurses are stunned Minister Hunt is allowing the dismantling of a proven and established program and risking the treatment and recovery of thousands of patients.

‘Minister Hunt has just announced a research fund to find better ways of treating mental illness – cutting off patients’ from trusted professionals and asking them to start again won’t be one of the answers.

‘This trusted therapeutic relationship takes years to build and is crucial to a person managing their illness and staying out of hospital. These relationships are not rebuilt easily, if ever. Breaking these relationships puts lives at risk.

‘Mental health nurses are angry their vital work with people with a mental illness is being undervalued, knowing the struggles of people with serious mental illness are invisible to the community and decision-makers.

‘Minister Hunt must do everything he can to retain the extraordinary expertise, decades of experience and capacity developed in the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program,’ Ms Carew said.