New standards to help deliver safer mental health care

New standards to help deliver safer mental health care

Around 21% of adults (16–85 years) and 40% of young people (16–24 years) experienced a common mental health disorder in 2020–21i, with up to 100,000 Australians seeking mental health support every year from community managed organisations (CMOs).

More than 200 CMOs — mostly not-for-profit, non-government organisations — provide mental health services across Australia, often sharing care with public health services, primary care providers and private health services. These services include psychosocial rehabilitation, helpline and counselling services, sub-acute step up/step down services, accommodation support, self-help and peer support, as well as employment, education, and family and carer support.

In a bid to provide a framework for delivering safer mental health care, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (the Commission) has released the National Safety and Quality Mental Health (NSQMH) Standards.

Safe, high-quality care

David McGrath, the Commission’s Executive Lead, Mental Health Standards, said the standards would give confidence that accredited community managed mental health services are committed to providing safe, high-quality mental health care.

“Over a lifetime, almost half of us will experience a mental health disorder — so there’s a high likelihood many of us will need to access support services during our life journey,” he said.

“Community managed organisations deliver vital services to Australians with mental ill health, supporting people in their own community and close to their family and friends support networks. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of providing local mental health care.

“For the first time, Australia has a contemporary set of standards specific to the delivery of mental health services by community managed organisations, which is a breakthrough for the sector.”

Building trust

According to McGrath, there are important gains for Australians accessing these mental health services. In any given year, about 800,000 Australiansii experience severe mental illness. Many of these people will require extended support on their recovery journey.

“The standards 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.”

McGrath added: “It is vital that a CMO, as a condition of funding, has the necessary governance arrangements to service the community, has a robust model of care and works in partnership with consumers.”

The NSQMH Standards for CMOs comprise three core standards: Practice Governance, Partnering with Consumers, Families and Carers, and Model of Care — each with different elements to be implemented by service providers.

The Commission worked closely with the CMO sector to develop the standards over 18 months, seeking input from across the sector, including consumers and their families and carers, service providers (CMOs), peer support workers and funding organisations.

Carmel Tebbutt, Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health Coordinating Council, is one leader in the sector who has provided input to the development of the standards.

“The standards are tremendously valuable as they are purpose-designed, so they reflect the unique history and culture of CMOs,” she said.

“There has been significant consultation with the sector about the standards by the Commission, and it is great to see the final product reflects that input. The section on values explicitly recognises that CMOs deliver services that are recovery oriented — in line with the national framework, and which encompass a trauma-informed approach,” Tebbutt added.

Guidance and rigour

McGrath explained that the new standards are voluntary but will bring much-wanted guidance and rigour to the sector. Accreditation to the NSQMH Standards for CMOs will commence in early 2024.

“Importantly, a commitment to human rights principles — in line with the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights — is at the core of the standards. This is a key part of mental health care, and these standards recognise the rights of individuals to determine their own recovery pathway, in partnership with services.”

The NSQMH Standards for CMOs are aligned to existing standards, including: the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards, the National Safety and Quality Digital Mental Health Standards and the National Safety and Quality Primary and Community Healthcare Standards.

i Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing 2020–21. Australian Department of Health. 2022. 

ii Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW) Mental health services in Australia: Prevalence and impact of mental illness. 2022.

Image credit: Konstantin

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