Every Australian should enjoy access to quality mental health and suicide prevention services in a way that suits their needs and circumstances, but reality doesn’t always meet expectations. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate around one in five Australians experience a mental health issue in any year, but data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows only 11.2% of Australians received Medicare-subsidised mental health services in 2019-20 (and only 1.9% specialised clinical mental healthcare).
After the successful rollout of eight Head to Health sites over the last two years, primary health networks (PHNs) are set to receive funding to establish more of these community-based mental health services.
Head to Health centres address gaps with new multidisciplinary model
In recognition of current gaps, the Australian Government established eight Head to Health centres throughout 2020-22, with initial centres commissioned in all states and territories (except South Australia) through funding from the corresponding PHNs.
Head to Health hubs are intended to complement rather than replace or duplicate existing adult community mental health services. Based on an episode of care model, they deliver packages of evidence-based care and family support in the short to medium term.
Services are designed to:
- provide a central hub for connecting people with other local services – by providing referral pathways, help with navigating services, and advice and information about mental health and alcohol and other drug (AOD) use for individuals and their support people
- decrease system fragmentation by enhancing integration between Commonwealth and State-funded services
- prioritise the prevention, early intervention and management of severe, lasting mental health conditions.
Model for mental health centres has exciting potential
By addressing holistic needs, Head to Health sites enable people experiencing mild-to-moderate and severe mental illness or psychological distress to receive affordable, accessible community-based care. Some of the benefits of this model for individuals and their support people include:
- highly visible and easily accessible entry points to a service where everyone feels welcome and safe
- the ability to receive immediate support, treatment and advice without the need to make an appointment or incurring out-of-pocket expenses
- the availability of assessments matched to the need for services
- access to multidisciplinary care for people whose needs are not currently being met through other services.
These benefits are achieved by designing and implementing services around some key principles. The multidisciplinary team approach recognises that numerous factors influence an individual’s mental wellbeing, necessitating a whole-person strategy tailored to their needs. For example, individuals may need support with diverse factors such as relationships, employment, housing and alcohol or drug misuse.
With a ’no wrong door’ approach, the Head to Health model emphasises service integration and coordination. For example, services use:
- Care navigators – who work with consumers and their families or carers to help them find the most appropriate treatment, care or supports
- Warm transfer – where the Centre communicates directly with the service they are connecting an individual to, providing essential information about their needs before transfer occurs.
Centres also encourage optimal use of digital mental health and AOD services, and flexibility to deliver services when they are needed – by having extended hours and/or offering digital service access, for example.
The future of mental health care for Australians
Following the establishment of initial sites, the Commonwealth, state and territory governments have now agreed to work together to establish more centres nationally.
The National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement sets out their intention to work in partnership to improve Australians’ mental health, reduce the rate of suicide, and ensure systems to support these ends are sustainable and high quality.
Under the Head to Health expansion, further sites will be commissioned by PHNs. Larter has seen firsthand the benefits these services have provided communities and patients. Larter Consultant, Mario Gupta, was involved in establishing two of the early sites in Victoria. He has witnessed the benefits of community members receiving an appointment within 72 hours of referral (compared to frequent waiting times averaging six to eight weeks for an initial consultation). Larter believes this service expansion will provide excellent options for patients to choose the most appropriate care they need and receive it in a timely manner.
How Larter can support service codesign and implementation
Larter has significant depth and breadth of experience in this area, having supported the establishment of two services sites in Victoria.
With experience stemming from the pilot of HeadtoHelp across southeast Melbourne and Gippsland, Larter’s consultants have worked in strategic project planning and implementation with primary health care. We have worked with local providers to coordinate local services and create new health pathways to promote patient care. Our implementers have also actively sourced workforces for multidisciplinary teams and assisted in developing the co-designed hub and satellite models to offer face-to-face consultations across large geographic areas such as Gippsland. Along with this work, we have also developed policies and procedures for clinical and administrative staff to ensure all contractual requirements are met.
How Larter can help you
To discuss how Larter can help with establishment or commissioning support for new mental health services, contact our Principal Consultant Jo Grzelinska at firstname.lastname@example.org.