Patient input vital for improving mental services

Recent concerns raised in the Northern Daily Leader have queried the amount of funding and resources allocated to rural mental health by the Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network (HNECC PHN).

There is no doubt that over the last few years the pace of change in primary health care has been hectic and it is not surprising that this has resulted in some confusion. In applying funds from the federal government, the Primary Health Network has ensured that  the amount of funding or resources allocated to primary mental health services in the New England region has not reduced, and is working hard increase this level over time

One of the major changes that has occurred is that the Primary Health Networks (PHNs), unlike Medicare Locals, are not delivering services directly to the community. Instead, PHNs are funding existing health care providers to deliver a range of primary health care services that are relevant to the needs of their communities. The funding process is now undertaken by the PHN through a commissioning process.

In the first half of this year the PHN, as part of the commissioning process, called for tenders from health care providers to deliver a range of primary health care services across its region. This included mental health services throughout the North West and New England areas.

Selection of successful tenderers was overseen by people with knowledge of the New England and North West areas and the mental health space. On a value for money basis more mental health services have been funded in the 2016-17 year than in 2015-16.

Details of the successful and current providers of HNECC PHN funded mental health services can be found on the PHN website, and it should be noted that these services are being provided across all New England and North West areas.

A key part of the work of the PHN in mental health is to commission services that are accountable to the community and planned with providers so the services offered are integrated to meet local community and patient need. The right care in the right place. This includes working collaboratively with providers to improve local pathways of care, seeking local innovation, improving referral processes, seeking more feedback on patient experiences, and being more accountable for the outcomes of care. This is a challenge in very diverse areas where access to key services is limited, and because the health needs of every person is unique and often complex.

Additionally, while many clinicians are providing great support and treatment, it is impossible to currently determine whether mental health services as a whole are best meeting individual patient and community need. We are working in collaboration with other organisations towards to improve and evaluate the current mix of services.

The PHN is acutely aware that implementing a level of change, and developing our accountability for patient care and federal health funding over time, can have some initial negative impacts and perceptions. However, at the same time the PHN needs to fulfil its role of ensuring that health funding is used effectively for the best outcomes in communities. 

A key component of commissioning is a focus on the patient experience. The PHN is committed to increasing consumer input into the commissioning process as there is strong evidence that patient-centred approaches to health care can lead to improvements in safety, quality and cost effectiveness, as well as improvements in patient and clinician satisfaction.

To help us improve our ability to receive input and feedback from consumers the PHN has launched a new online consultation platform called Peoplebank. The platform is an opportunity for members of the New England and North West community to provide their ideas and to contribute to a range of projects and activities that the PHN is working on to create healthy people and healthy communities.

To participate people can register at and once registered they will be able to contribute feedback. The Clinical Councils and Community Advisory Committees of the PHN are now also monitoring and assisting with this work, and we welcome discussions about how to support regional and rural communities and services to improve Mental Health outcomes.


Richard Nankervis