SA’s $125m mental health gap leaves 19,000 with unmet needs

A highly anticipated study into the state’s mental health sector reveals it would cost $125 million every year to fund support services for 19,000 people who can’t get the assistance they need.

Jul 25, 2023, updated Jul 25, 2023
Health Minister Chris Picton released the Unmet Needs Study on July 25, 2023.

Health Minister Chris Picton released the Unmet Needs Study on July 25, 2023.

A study that mental health advocates have been demanding the government release was unveiled today, detailing major gaps in the state’s support for people with mental health needs.

Mental health advocates say the state should immediately meet the funding shortfall, but the state government blames the NDIS for soaking up too many resources.

The Unmet Needs Study – commissioned by the former Liberal Government and presented to state Cabinet yesterday – details a serious lack of funding for services like carer programs, rehabilitation and home-based support services.

Health Minister Chris Picton released the report following mounting pressure from the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia which ran an attack ad against the Minister in the weekend edition of The Advertiser and in InDaily this week.

The study reveals that there are about 19,000 people in South Australia who cannot access psychosocial support services, and that it would cost about $125 million per annum to fund these services. This is up from 11,000 people in 2019, revealed in a parliamentary inquiry into the state’s mental health services infrastructure.

However, the study also reveals “two contradictory outcomes”: expenditure on psychosocial support services in SA exceeded funding estimates by $34 million, but the population receiving services is “well below that predicted by the model”.

This is because the vast majority of funding is going towards NDIS participants – a smaller cohort with more expensive requirements.

When asked this morning on ABC Radio Adelaide how SA would fund the shortfall, Picton said he would working with the federal government as recommended by the report which said both the tiers of governments were responsible for paying for the services.

“There’s enough money out there, it’s just all going into the NDIS,” Picton said.

“There needs to be work between us and the Commonwealth in terms of how we’re going to address this. There’s not a clear delineation in terms of who is responsible for this, but what we’re going to be doing is undertaking a reform piece of work on all of our NGO contracted services to make sure that we’ve got the baseline and a foundation of these services.

“We absolutely need to consider this in the context of future budgets and future investments, as well as doing that reform work and working with the Federal Government and rolling out the extra mental health investments that we’re doing at the moment.”

For the 19,000 people who have unmet mental health needs in the state, the study details a variety of investment areas the South Australian Government could act on immediately including:

  • Individual Support and Rehabilitation for children (up to $22m), youth (up to $27m) and older persons (up to $11m).
  • Respite services across all age categories for day respite ($380k), flexible respite (up to $5m) and residential respite and crisis services (up to $6.8m).
  • Some funds for group services for adults can be reallocated to other age groups.
  • Individual peer support for youth (up to $12.5m).

With the Unmet Needs Study now released, Mental Health Coalition of South Australia CEO Geoff Harris said the state should immediately fund psychosocial support programs.

“The number was 11,000 people, now it’s 19,000 people. Our failure to act in the last couple of years has led to that number growing dramatically. Now we’re calling on Minister Picton to fix the problem,” Harris told InDaily.

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“The Minister could choose to fix the problem for example with the Budget surplus, or he can choose to send the problem to Canberra and ask them to fix it. If he fixes the problem now those 19,000 people get the services that they need and the state mental health system operates more effectively and efficiently.

“Any Commonwealth process will take a long time. It could be years. We’ve already waited a long time since the last study like this was done and the number has ballooned since then, so we’re calling on the Government to fix it now.”

Harris labelled the Unmet Needs Study – an Australian first – as a “watershed moment in the history of mental health”.

“We’ve known that the institutionalisation has not been accompanied with proper investment in community support, and now we’ve got this report that says how many people need it and how much it will cost to fix it.

“We need to get the job done.”

Picton also said this morning that he would not take legal action against the Mental Health Coalition of SA for its ad demanding the report’s release, which was published on the weekend.

The minister’s office told the MHCSA before the ad’s publication that it was “partisan and personal” and that he would consider seeking advice about legal action.

Picton said this morning that he believed the ad was “provocative” and had been told it was potentially defamatory.

“If I wanted to go down that path…I’ve certainly had a lawyer reach out to me yesterday saying ‘you’ve got a good case here’ in terms of defamatory content,” Picton told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“But it’s not something that I’m going to pursue.”

Picton acknowledged that the process of releasing the study “probably” could have been accelerated. It was completed in February and considered by health officials but he only received it in June.

“But what we’ve got now is the first report of its kind in the country,” he said.

“The federal government have since started their own work on this as well, so they’re going to have a similar report that’s going to come out early next year and I think it’s going to be important for other states as well.”

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