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Consumer control in the mental health sector
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.
“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.safetyandquality.gov.au/mh-cmos