Primary Health Networks (PHNs) have been established with the key objectives of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of medical services for patients – particularly those at risk of poor health outcomes – and improving coordination of care to ensure patients receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time. Establishing PHNs provides an opportunity to better organise regional primary health care systems so that they can be both responsive to local needs and better utilise the significant potential of the primary health care system.
The role of PHNs in mental health reform is a key priority area identified by Minister Susan Ley. This follows the major review of the mental health system in Australia by the Australian Government’s Mental Health Commission. The Commission’s Report highlighted the potential of organised primary care to make a difference in a number of recommendations, including in Recommendation 7:
“Extend the scope of Primary Health Networks (renamed Primary and Mental Health Networks—PMHNs) as the key regional architecture for equitable planning and purchasing of mental health programmes, services and integrated care pathways.”
This recommendation is an important piece of policy direction that PHNs are very much aware of, and will over time strengthen their capability to achieve. Many, if not most in the mental health sector are beginning to work through the practical changes of this policy direction with their PHNs right now. To achieve this requires change, and without a doubt any change process requires careful management as well as time.
The important principle that underlines this work is building effective partnerships and networks, not only between PHNs and service providers but also among service providers, so that clients of the system can experience better continuity of care. Clients of our health and human system, together with their families and carers, deserve a system that is integrated – by which we mean a system that is organised around their needs, or person-centred.
The potential for integrated care in our mental health system is both enormous and challenging, but this potential has never been greater.
Walter Kmet will be speaking on ‘The PHN role in mental health reform’ at the Implementing Mental Health Reform Conference. Book your place by April 8th to save $200.