Fears for multicultural mental health service


There are fears for the future of the Mental Health in Multicultural Australia project, with stakeholders saying the project's new contractor had left them out in the cold.

Consumers and carers advising Australia’s only national multicultural mental health service say they have been sidelined by the federal government's new service provider.

But Mental Health Australia (MHA) says they were awarded the contract in September by the government to fix a good program that went off track.

The National Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Consumer and Carer Working Group (NCCCWG) has written to Health Minister Sussan Ley saying the program is being damaged, they are being ignored and MHA does not have the necessary experience.

“Without our voice, without our input, this project is meaningless. It's very important for us to work together,” said Chandi Powell, a migrant from Sri Lanka and a consumer representative on the NCCCWG.

The dispute comes after the federal government last week was praised for announcing reforms to the mental health sector with a focus on the needs of individuals and at risk groups.

Ms Powell overcame debilitating mental health issues a decade ago and now works to help others.

“There’s been no consultation," she said.

"We haven’t signed any contract, but according to them we are still working.”

“They all come from a multicultural background, with expertise in the mental health sector.”

The Mental Health in Multicultural Australia project, commonly known as MHiMA, was highly commended by the National Mental Health Commission review earlier this year.

MHiMA provides a national framework for mental health service providers to engage appropriately with people from multicultural communities and also collect data on their needs.

The project also had governance problems so the federal government handed control and funding to Mental Health Australia, the country's peak body. 

“Consumers and carers have not been disengaged at any time,” said Frank Quinlan, CEO of MHA.

“They I suspect have been the victim of contractual arrangements between the department of health and the previous consortium.”

Australia spends about $10 billion annually on mental health services per year. Last week the federal government announced a redesign but no extra funding.

A statement on the announcement said: “Reform must build programmes and pathways around individual consumers, particularly subgroups (including) …  people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds”.

Damir Trokic is a carer for his aged and mentally ill parents from Bosnia in Ipswich in south east Queensland.

He was also a representative on the MHiMA working group and has concerns about the new operator.

“Especially, they openly say they don't have the expertise in the multicultural mental health area, so I don't know what to expect from them,” he said.

The MHA has acknowledged the need to engage with multicultural groups.

“We recognise that's a skill set we will have to bring into the organisation and we hope by engaging with multicultural groups they will be directly at the table at all stages,” Mr Quinlan said.

“We are very keen to secure the future of this project - we're actually in the process of expanding and filling vacancies in the consumer and carer working group.”

Carers and consumers have asked the health minister to intervene. SBS has contacted the minister's office for a response.

The project is currently funded until June next year.

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