National mental health plan must move forward – but needs greater recognition of mental health nurses first

Friday 11 March 2022

The Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) has criticised the delay on the national mental health plan and said that lack of recognition of mental health nurses is leaving Australia’s ‘missing middle’ in the lurch.

To address the ever-increasing demand for mental health services, the Federal Government drew up a $2.3 billion dollar national mental health and suicide reduction plan in May last year. However, the start of its implementation is now four months overdue, with federal and a number of state governments disagreeing about a series of details, including appropriate levels of funding and responsibility for the ‘missing middle’.

“The ‘missing middle’ – those often too unwell for primary care, but not unwell enough for state-based services, suffer the most from the delay and insufficient funding,” ACMHN Interim President Professor John Hurley said.

“Qualified mental health nurses are the ideal mental health clinicians to help these people, yet, they hardly get a mention in the national plan.”

Professor Hurley said it was all well and good to fund more scholarships and clinical placements for mental health nurses, but the real core of the problem was the lack of access to MBS items for Credentialed Mental Health Nurses (CMHNs).

“CMHNs are highly-skilled mental health clinicians who often work on complex cases. But they can do very little for the ‘missing middle’ without proper funding,” Professor Hurley said.

“The Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program (MHNIP) used to service this population. When it ended, many of those in ‘the missing middle’ were left in the lurch. A modernised version of MHNIP that supports CMHNs to have either independent practice or be salaried within the sector is vital for this population,” Professor Hurley said.

Professor Hurley added that the mental health plan must move forward, but that Australian governments needed to fund a modernised MHNIP and allow CMHNs into Better Access funding streams as matter of urgency.

“We’re keen to partner with both state and federal governments to enable specialist mental health nurses to work to their full set of clinical capabilities for all Australians impacted by poor mental health,” he said.

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Australia national mental health plan, Australian College of Mental Health Nurses press release, mental health nursing

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