Mental health orgs cry foul at NSW budget neglect

3 minute read

NSW has the unhappy distinction of being the state that invests the least into mental health services per capita.

This year’s NSW state budget has done little to alleviate pressure on mental health services, according to six peak industry bodies.

Released on Tuesday, the Minns government’s first budget only contained a 0.87% increase on health spending – effectively a cut when inflation is factored in, said AMA NSW president Dr Michael Bonning.

For mental health specifically, there was $25m for culturally appropriate First Nations mental health and cancer services, a $34.3m boost for health and mental health clinicians at women’s health centres and additional funding for a mental health return-to-work program for essential workers via the state insurer.

Despite accounting for 13% of the total burden of disease in NSW, mental health received about 7% of the state’s health budget.

This proportion has remained unchanged for nearly a decade, according to mental health non-profit Black Dog Institute.

Not only does NSW have the lowest per capita funding for mental health of all the states and territories, it is also the only jurisdiction to decrease mental health service funding over the last 10 years.

Along with the RACGP, AMA NSW, Australian College of Mental Health Nurses, Mental Health Carers NSW and mental health consumer organisation BEING, the Black Dog Institute is urging the government to consider a mental health payroll tax surcharge for large companies to provide ongoing funding for mental health services in the state.

It would only apply to companies that pay more than $100m in wages each year. A similar levy is already in place in Victoria and Queensland.

The coalition of organisations also called for an independent analysis of state-funded mental health services to identify gaps in the workforce and funding arrangements, as well as allocating funding for mental health that is proportionate to its burden of disease.  

“Mental health services in NSW are stretched beyond capacity, frontline mental health workers are burnt out, and, most importantly, people who need mental health care now have to wait longer and pay more out of pocket to get the help they need,” said Black Dog Institute executive director Samuel Harvey.

The RACGP have also taken issue with the healthcare study subsidy announced in the budget.

It’s set to provide $120m in study subsidies for around 12,000 healthcare students over the next five years.

The study subsidies take the form of $4000-per-year scholarships for new students and one-off payments of $8000 for existing students, the only catch being that they must commit to working in the state’s public health system for five years following graduation.

Working in the public health system is generally not something GPs can do.

RACGP NSW chair Professor Charlotte Hespe said that making funding contingent on public health work would discourage students from pursuing general practice and worsen the GP shortage.

“I call on the government to meet with the RACGP right away, have the future of the GP workforce front of mind, and ensure that this subsidy scheme is inclusive of the GP training system,” she said.

“If not, the ramifications for the state’s entire health system and the wellbeing of patients across New South Wales will prove dire.”

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