ILLAWARRA health professionals want greater federal funding as mental health nurses struggle to cope with the growing demand for their services.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local chief executive Kellie Marshall praised the work of the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program, which helps people with chronic mental health problems – those who are regular hospital admissions, are suicidal or homeless, or young people who have withdrawn from school and families.
In the Illawarra, three mental health nurses have supported more than 130 people and families in the past two years. A headspace nurse also works with young people.
The nurses work with GPs, private psychiatrists and other organisations to provide close support and the program has been effective in reducing hospitalisations.
‘‘The mental health system is overstretched and this funding has enabled us to provide long-term care to some of the most vulnerable within our community,’’ Dr Marshall said. ‘‘It stops people falling through the cracks.’’
Dr Marshall said the federal government had frozen funding for the program in the budget and is currently reviewing the services it provides.
‘‘The freeze has meant we can’t employ additional mental health nurses while the system is under review (and) this affects GP services as well,’’ she said.
But Mental Health Minister Mark Butler said the $2.2 billion package of new mental health initiatives, the largest ever, was not ‘‘touched in the slightest by this year’s budget’’.
Mr Butler said $16.5 million in extra funding was provided for the program nationwide in 2012-13, providing care for many more patients than forecast in 2007 when the program started.
‘‘I appreciate that the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses wanted an uncapped provision for MHNIP … but no other program in mental health [except Better Access] is funded on that basis.’’