Red flags not acted on as system falls

DAMNING: Targeting Zero report author Dr Stephen Duckett says Victoria's mental health system is struggling after years of chronic underfunding.

DAMNING: Targeting Zero report author Dr Stephen Duckett says Victoria's mental health system is struggling after years of chronic underfunding.

Victoria’s mental health system is struggling under the weight of a decade of chronic underfunding, according to the author of damning hospital safety report Targeting Zero.

Dr Stephen Duckett said the Department of Health had “failed to act on red flags” signalling systemic health care problems. “Nowhere has this been more apparent, to us, than in mental health care,” Dr Duckett said.

Dr Duckett said the Review of Hospital Safety and Quality Assurance in Victoria panel had clearly noted a “significant degradation” in funding over the past 10 years.

“As a consequence, acutely unwell patients are waiting longer to access mental healthcare in acute settings ...and when patients are admitted for treatment, they tend to be sicker and are at risk of receiving treatment that is too brief to fully address their needs.”

It follows a report in Saturday’s edition of The Courier which highlighted two mother’s struggles to get adequate mental health care for their sons.

Dr Duckett said inadequacies in Victoria’s mental health system had been consistently highlighted by independent research but it had been “met with inaction” by the department.

He said Victoria had the slowest mental health funding growth in Australia over the past 20 years, and went from being the state with the highest mental health spending per capita to the lowest.

“Hospitals have had to spread the same amount of resources more and more thinly.”

The report also shows one in three Victorian mental health patients wait, on average, more than eight hours in a hospital emergency department before being admitted for treatment.

However, he also praised the state government’s new 10-year mental health strategy, the establishment of a Mental Health Annual Report and $365 million in funding for mental health infrastructure and programs.

“The Victorian government’s strong commitment to mental health is an opportunity to turn this around. Decisive action to address the worst inadequacies in care should now follow.”