A Unified Service System

We would like to see a comprehensive mental health system that includes a number of components which form a unified system, ensuring continuity of care for consumers.

A Unified Service
System Model

  • A single point or process of entry into a service;
  • Specialist crisis intervention, assessment, acute care, ongoing care and rehabilitation care across the consumer’s lifespan;
  • A case management system;
  • Multidisciplinary teams;
  • The active involvement of consumers;
  • A co-ordinated management system between inpatient and community services;

The Problem

  • General Practitioners (GPs) have long been an important treatment agency, often providing the ongoing care of those with mild-moderate disorders. Council of Australian Governments (COAG) policy and funding streams now assist GPs to provide clinic-based services supported by on-site mental health nurses and better access to private psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers, as a service broker.
  • Currently the range and choice of services is greater than in the past, but service delivery remains patchy and poorly coordinated. This can increase the consumer’s confusion, isolation and stress leading to relapse, self- harm, and in a small minority of cases, risks to the public if appropriate support is not available.
  • Funding methodologies do not reward adherence to the evidence whether the agency is public, private or NGO.  With the increase in the number of private service providers (psychologists, social workers, nurses, occupational therapists) who can work under the Medicare Benefits Scheme, it is essential that there is co-ordination and co-operation between these service providers and the rest of the mental health sector, but there is no mechanism to pay for this.

The Solution

An Integrated Service System must have:

  • Adequate funding to ensure services meet the needs of the moderate and most severely unwell in a given population;   
  • Reliable access to the right services at the right time, in, or as close to, consumers’ homes, as possible;   
  • Provision of effective clinical care delivered by highly trained professionals monitored for quality and Fidelity;
  • Continuity of care with as few repetitive assessments (ie by multiple professionals) as necessary;                   
  • Appropriate transfer of information between relevant and involved service providers, as consumers move from service to service, and sector to sector;       
  • Efficient and effective coordination of assessment, treatment, care planning and case management through face to face meeting and electronic means; 
  • Coherent systems of governance and management between Commonwealth, State, Area/Region and Locality providers;
  • Quality, effectiveness and efficiency measures to ensure accountability at all levels of the mental health system;
  • Appropriate and effective training and supervision.

Recommendations for Nationwide Implementation

Current and previous National Mental Health Strategies have made a great deal of progress towards reforming mental health services. But they need to make specific recommendations and implement the strategies. We need to define individual service components and staffing levels required to deliver a comprehensive, locality based continuum of community care that addresses the needs of an average population of 100,000.

Service models need to be clearly defined; resourcing of services must be done on a rational basis, not simply an historical basis; quality measures and standards must be meaningful and ensure good practice across multiple providers.

Access To Services

Communities and those individuals with specialised needs must have access to appropriate services when and where they are needed. There must be sufficient services with sufficient staff to meet individual and family/carer needs in a way that minimises impairment and disability.

Public mental health crisis services (and extended hours services) are a critical component of a mental health system and are most often the entry point to mental health services. Access to services can be via any, or all, of several components of this complex system, including mental health acute assessment teams (either based in the community or in emergency departments), police, ambulance, GP’s and private psychiatrists.

In accordance with international best practice, teams responding to people in crisis must have skilled staff with the ability to provide immediate access to:
• Clinical triage and assessment;
• Case management/care coordination;
• Intensive psychological and practical support;
• Medication management;
• Family/carer support;
• Cultural assessment;
• Relapse prevention;
• Crisis planning;
• Inpatient care;
• Respite care options;
• Links to ongoing care/support;
• A range of psychological interventions.


Continuity of Care

For those individuals who need it, continuity of care is achieved through a sustained relationship with a care provider (case manager), who delivers ongoing psychological care and support for the individual and their family/carers. Continuity of care is required through all stages of the clinical pathway.