Update from CSGPN: New mental health changes

There are many changes happening in the mental health sector, as the Australian Government moves towards models which more closely support person-centred care. The area covered by CSGPN, and indeed that of the whole primary health network, will see a number of mental health services being commissioned by Central and Eastern Sydney PHN.

Earlier in the year, Central and Eastern Sydney PHN conducted a mental health specific needs assessment, which reinforced that existing services are fragmented, and that there are gaps in services available to treat people across the entire spectrum of mental ill health. The needs of patients’ families and carers were also raised during consultations.

Having identified health needs and health service needs of our local population, CESPHN will be responsible for commissioning mental health services to address these. The Commonwealth has tasked primary health networks with this role, with the idea that regionally based organisations are more adept at meeting the needs of local communities. This means that CESPHN will arrange for organisations or individual providers working in consortiums to deliver these services.

Throughout this process, CSGPN will work with the primary health network, to ensure that GPs remain a central part of the care delivered to our patients. GPs have a wide range of skills. Our generalist training covers both the physical and mental health of our patients, which we know are intrinsically linked.

Life expectancy of people with severe mental health conditions is 15-25 years less than the general population. GPs are in an ideal position to address the co-morbidities and lifestyle changes that can help to lower this discrepancy. GPs are in a unique position as we know our patients for prolonged periods of time. We have often cared for patients long before their mental health problems emerge. We have a broad perspective, often having the benefit of knowing their family members, their carers and understand the patients’ context in their local community.

We have experience working with patients through the Better Access Scheme, ATAPS and in collaboration with Community Mental Health Teams. We are able to provide this continuity of care addressing to some extent the well- recognised problem of care fragmentation in this patient group.

It is critical that the GP remains central to any referrals made to mental health professionals and that GPs are included in teams developed to meet the patients’ needs. Mental health teams which exclude GPs will potentially miss identifying that the patients’ physical health may indeed have contributed to their mental illness. We already know that the burden of physical illness and poor lifestyle choices are common amongst mental health patients.

CESPHN has this week introduced a commissioning section on their website, which includes a commissioning framework. CSGPN continues to advocate that the Board recognises the unique and invaluable contribution that GPs make to these patients, and will work with CESPHN, and our local allied health colleagues to deliver better mental health services and drive better mental health outcomes for our patients.

Dr Margot Woods
CSGPN Director