July 1st 2016 is looming fast for service users and providers in the mental health NGO sector. That is when the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is due to ‘roll out’ across most of Australia, for all types of disability including psychosocial.
Actually most of us, whether people with severe mental illness, carers or service providers, welcomed the announcement in 2012 that disability related to mental illness would be part of the NDIS. We all know that the promises made twenty or more years ago—that a full range of community supports would replace the mental hospitals being closed closed—have not been delivered in full, particularly to people with severe and persistent mental illness and complex disabilities.
Packages of care
There was not much argument that 56,000 people seemed a reasonable estimate of how many needed the NDIS comprehensive ‘packages of care’. There has been anxiety about the ‘insurance model’ for these 56,000, and what it actually meant, and several other major issues. To be fair, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) have put in a lot of effort to resolve most of these.
So yes, there are still big concerns about exactly how the scheme will work for users and providers. But by far the biggest concern is how this will affect people who are not going to get a package of care—the people outside ‘the 56,000’.
Back tracking on what has been achieved
Estimates of how many people have severe mental illness and episodic or persistent disabilities have been put forward by the National Mental Health Commission, the National Mental Health Services Planning Framework, and by the Productivity Commission when it advised the Government, before the scheme was legislated. The Productivity Commission gave the lowest figure, which was 480,000 people, of whom 56,000 were to be covered by the NDIS.
But, and this is a very big but, in 2013 the Commonwealth Government, followed by several States and Territories, then promised to part-fund the NDIS with money that underpins assistance to people who will mostly not qualify for a package. Services that several hundred thousand Australians affected by severe mental illness, and their family carers, have been able to depend on for the last ten years or more. Services that were introduced by the Howard Government and then expanded by the Gillard Government, always with bi-partisan support.
No-one who welcomed this initiative thought it would be achieved by back-tracking on so much that has been achieved. We have been pointing out this major policy error for more than two years, since we first heard that a number of programs were going to be ‘rolled in’ to the NDIS. Ten months to go, and we still don’t seem any closer to a resolution. As things stand, there will be many, many ‘wrong doors’ for people in desperate need of help after July 1st 2016.
David Meldrum will be speaking on ‘Better help where & when you need it – the only reform that’s needed’ at the Implementing Mental Health Reform Conference. Book your place by March 11th to save $300.