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Consumer control in the mental health sector

30 Mar 2023

Giving consumers control to determine their own recovery pathway is at the core of new national mental health standards. The new standards, designed specifically for mental health services provided by community-managed organisations (CMOs), represent a potential breakthrough for the sector.

David McGrath, Exec­u­tive Lead Men­tal Health Stan­dards for the Aus­tralian Com­mis­sion on Safe­ty and Qual­i­ty in Health Care.

We have worked exten­sive­ly over 18 months with CMOs, con­sumers, their fam­i­lies and car­ers, plus peer sup­port work­ers and fund­ing bod­ies in the design of these new stan­dards,” says David McGrath, Exec­u­tive Lead, Men­tal Health Stan­dards, for the Aus­tralian Com­mis­sion on Safe­ty and Qual­i­ty in Health Care.

The out­come is a focus on the con­sumer being at the cen­tre of care and recog­nis­ing recov­ery-ori­ent­ed prac­tice and trau­ma-informed care. It is incred­i­bly impor­tant the indi­vid­ual feels they can dri­ve the care that they receive.

We don’t expect peo­ple to know auto­mat­i­cal­ly what to do or how to seek help. We are devel­op­ing guides for ser­vice providers. We are also devel­op­ing resources to make it eas­i­er for con­sumers to recog­nise the skills they will need in plan­ning and man­ag­ing their care, and express­ing their point of view when they need some­thing changed. It is real­ly impor­tant to give sup­port and skills to con­sumers to help them take that control.

For the past decade CMOs have been using nation­al stan­dards designed for all organ­i­sa­tions offer­ing men­tal health ser­vices, includ­ing hos­pi­tals, so they have been delib­er­ate­ly broad. It was recog­nised they were no longer fit for pur­pose for CMOs.”

David says the new stan­dards, which also include sec­tions on mod­els of care and gov­er­nance, are a sig­nif­i­cant step in pro­vid­ing safe­ty and qual­i­ty assur­ance for con­sumers, their fam­i­lies and carers. 

They will build trust between ser­vice providers and the peo­ple they sup­port, and help con­sumers to feel more com­fort­able about engag­ing with a service.”

About 800,000 Aus­tralians expe­ri­ence severe men­tal ill­ness in any giv­en year and many require extend­ed sup­port on their recov­ery jour­ney. Up to 100,000 Aus­tralians seek men­tal health sup­port from CMOs every year, with the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic high­light­ing the val­ue of pro­vid­ing local men­tal health care.

There are more than 200 CMOs pro­vid­ing men­tal health ser­vices in Aus­tralia. They include helpline ser­vices, coun­selling, accom­mo­da­tion sup­port, self-help and peer sup­port and spe­cif­ic areas such as employ­ment, edu­ca­tion, fam­i­ly and car­er support.

The stan­dards, says David, also rein­force the impor­tance to CMOs that they need to have a bal­ance in their operations.

It is not just about man­ag­ing mon­ey and human resources, with a focus on the cor­po­rate and legal areas – it is about their prac­tice, their mod­el of care and the con­sumer hav­ing pri­or­i­ty,” he says.

It is impor­tant to note that many ser­vices already meet the new men­tal health stan­dards, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly all of them,” says David.

And just because they are doing it now, a CMO’s Board and work­force may change, which can alter their cir­cum­stances. Now that we have these stan­dards, they pro­vide an ongo­ing ref­er­ence point to ensure that ser­vices con­tin­ue to meet the standards.

The Com­mis­sion is very expe­ri­enced in imple­ment­ing health­care stan­dards. This involves a process of con­tin­u­al improve­ment and all par­tic­i­pat­ing organ­i­sa­tions will be re-accred­it­ed every three years.”

While becom­ing accred­it­ed to the men­tal health stan­dards is not manda­to­ry for CMOs, David expects, as time pro­gress­es, more ser­vices will recog­nise the ben­e­fits of participating.

He says they will pos­i­tive­ly influ­ence the design, devel­op­ment and eval­u­a­tion of ser­vices. Con­sumers, too, will begin to recog­nise those accred­it­ed organ­i­sa­tions and feel secure in their choices.

As accred­i­ta­tion rolls out lat­er this year, new guid­ance will be avail­able to help ser­vices under­stand how to imple­ment the new standards.

Find out more about the Nation­al Safe­ty and Qual­i­ty Men­tal Health (NSQMH) Stan­dards for Com­mu­ni­ty Man­aged Organ­i­sa­tions at: www​.safetyandqual​i​ty​.gov​.au/​m​h​-cmos