Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) team has partnered with Queensland Health and Primary Health Networks in Central Queensland, Wide Bay and the Sunshine Coast to develop a new model for improving mental health care in rural and regional Queensland.

Preliminary work found that the National Mental Health Service Planning Framework (NMHSPF), developed by the Australian Department of Health and state and territory governments, could effectively support integrated regional mental health planning efforts between Primary Health Networks and state hospital and health services by providing population-based needs and resource estimates across the mental health services spectrum.

QCMHR researcher Eryn Wright, who also holds an appointment at The University of Queensland’s School of Public Health, said the project was undertaken by using the NMHSPF to map the capacity and delivery of existing mental health services against projected service needs in regional Queensland.

“The NHMSPF draws on national and international epidemiological data on mental illness to quantify how many people may need to access mental health services in Australia, but we wanted to test how well it performed at regional level to support better integration of mental health planning,” Ms Wright said.

“Our mental health system has been criticised for its lack of integration and gaps in service provision that can compromise continuity of care for people with mental disorders.

“Our hope is to provide the evidence needed to develop a model capable of underpinning a more integrated mental health system, capable of servicing the needs of people in regional and rural communities.”

The team found the tool could successfully identify priority areas for the mental health system in rural and regional Queensland including improving access to public ambulatory services and primary mental health services, and supporting rehabilitation services for individuals with severe mental illness.”

They also found the NMHSPF tool could be improved by including service models more suited to rural and remote settings and by including specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service models.

“When we applied the NMHSPF to service planning in rural and remote areas with small populations it became clear that there was a significant need for alternative service models in the framework,” Ms Wright said.

“Alternative service models suited to regional and rural communities could include initiatives such as staffing face-to-face services with salaried providers in place of fee-for-service models, training or up-skilling members of the local population, and providing tele- and e-mental health services.”

Since the study was originally conducted, its findings have prompted ongoing work in consultation with clinicians, researchers, consumers and carers to review the NMHSPF and improve its applicability to rural, remote and indigenous settings.

The Australian Journal of Primary Health published the study on 3 March 2021.

QCMHR is a research partnership between Queensland Health and The University of Queensland via the School of Public Health and Queensland Brain Institute. Hosted by West Moreton Health, QCMHR is funded to work state-wide in Queensland and contribute to the Australian and global research effort to improve mental health

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