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Mental health services reach the tipping point in Australian acute hospitals

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The OECD warns about Australia’s low psychiatric bed numbers

In April 2015, the federal government released the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) report on the Australian mental health sector.1 Although the report contained many consensus-driven, consumer-oriented proposals, the media focused on the recommended shift of $1 billion from public acute-care hospitals over 5 years to expand community mental health programs including subacute beds.2

The NMHC schedule reduces mental health funding for acute hospitals progressively from the 2017–18 financial year (Box 1).1 Given that total funding was $1.4 billion in the 2012–13 financial year, the reallocation of at least $300 million in the final year of the schedule (2021–22) could reduce the number of acute-care hospital beds by 15%.

As an independent commission, the NMHC has encouraged debate about their report. In a recent article in the Journal, Professor Ian Hickie, an NMHC Commissioner, supported “shifting the emphasis” from acute hospitals to community-based services, and he urged the federal government to act.2 The NMHC chair, Professor Allan Fels, echoed these views in his National Press Club Address in August 2015.3 He criticised…