Mental health carers urge against rolling support funding into NDIS
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Mental health carers urge against rolling support funding into NDIS

Mental health carers have urged a parliamentary inquiry to recommend the funding that supports their work looking after people with psychosocial disabilities be quarantined from the National Disability Insurance Agency.

The carers of people with mental health issues fear the funding that helps support family members and friends with illnesses may be lost in a gap between the national scheme and state and territory programs.

Leanne Wells.

Leanne Wells.Credit:Dean Sewell

Two key federal funding programs, the Partners in Recovery [PIR] and Personal Helpers and Mentors [PHaM], would be rolled into the scheme over a three-year transition period in all states except the ACT, where it shifted in July last year.

But Mental Health Carers Australia's executive Jenny Branton was concerned the change could leave some people with mental health illnesses without case workers and their carers without support to have regular respite from the challenging work.

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She said there had already been some "unforeseen gaps" where those with mental health illnesses would not qualify for support under the NDIS and some state and territory governments may not be able to pick up the slack.

A recent report by the University of Queensland for Mind Australia estimated the value of informal mental health carers to the economy at $13.2 billion, a sum neither the Commonwealth or states and territories likely have the capacity to meet.

"I think carers are really concerned about the uncertainty, they are generally more concerned about the gaps in the supports for the person they are caring for, they put their own health behind them," she said.

The MHCA's submission has also called for, along with many other non-government organisations, more clarity around the eligibility criteria and more face-to-face interviews for prospective participants in the scheme.

The Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS is examining how the scheme supports people with psychosocial disabilities, and the problems already identified, with a view to reporting in June this year.

It comes as federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has set up a advisory panel to review and provide advice on mental health plans drawn up by the nation's 31 primary health networks (PHN), which aim to help integrate services between the Commonwealth and states as the NDIS rolls out nationally.

Mr Hunt said that since he came into the health portfolio, mental health had been the "number one topic people stop to talk to me about" and he was determined to do everything he could to ensure people who needed support got it.

But the panel was a "surprise" to the Consumers Health Forum and other groups, given the motivation behind creating the networks was to put decision-making on primary health in the hands of local people.

CHF chief executive Leanne Wells said while the networks should be held to account for their work, the forum believed local doctors and consumers were best placed to help shape mental health plans, rather than "a central committee".

The panel is co-chaired by Mental Health Australia's Frank Quinlan and National Mental Health Commission chief executive Dr Peggy Brown.

Daniel Burdon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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