Fourth national mental health plan: an agenda for collaborative government action in mental health 2009-2014

Priority area 4: quality improvement and innovation

Page last updated: 2009

Summary of actions
Cross-portfolio implications
Indicators for monitoring change


The community has access to information on service delivery and outcomes on a regional basis. This will include reporting against agreed standards of care including consumer and carer experiences and perceptions. Mental health legislation meets agreed principles and, in conjunction with any related legislation, is able to support appropriate transfer of civil and forensic patients between jurisdictions. There are explicit avenues of support for emerging and current leaders to implement evidence-based and innovative models of care, to foster research and dissemination of findings, and to further workforce development and reform.

Summary of actions

  • Review the Mental Health Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
  • Review and where necessary amend mental health and related legislation to support cross-border agreements and transfers of people under civil and forensic orders, and scope requirements for the development of nationally consistent mental health legislation.
  • Develop and commence implementation of a National Mental Health Workforce Strategy that defines standardised workforce competencies and roles in clinical, community and peer support areas.
  • Increase consumer and carer employment in clinical and community support settings.
  • Ensure accreditation and reporting systems in health and community sectors incorporate the National Standards for Mental Health Services.
  • Further develop and progress implementation of the National Mental Health Performance and Benchmarking Frameworks.
  • Develop a national mental health research strategy to drive collaboration and inform the research agenda.
  • Expand and better utilise innovative approaches to service delivery including telephone and e-mental health services. Top of page

Cross-portfolio implications

To support a collaborative whole of government approach, actions in this area will require the health sector to work collaboratively with justice, community services, workforce accreditation and registration agencies, and research funding bodies.

Indicators for monitoring change

  • Proportion of total mental health workforce accounted for by consumer and carer workers
  • Proportion of services reaching threshold standards of accreditation under the National Mental Health Standards
  • Mental health outcomes for people who receive treatment from state and territory services and the private hospital system
  • Proportion of consumers and carers with positive experiences of service delivery * Top of page


Mental health service quality should be at least equal to that of other health services. In addition, because those who experience mental illness may be treated under the provisions of mental health legislation, services should meet all legal requirements and the expectations of rights charters or agreements.

Service amenity and legislative provisions should ideally be consistent across the nation and accord with national standards and agreements. In practice, uniform legislation is difficult to achieve because of the many inter-related state/ territory based pieces of legislation. But we can work towards consistent legislative frameworks, and we can minimise the disruption to treatment and care caused by incompatibility between state/ territory based mental health legislative frameworks. The rights of consumers and the needs of carers must be recognised and monitored through efforts to improve the carer and consumer experience of engagement with mental health services, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Service development should include mechanisms to support advocacy and enable self determination to the greatest extent possible.

The National Mental Health Performance Framework has proven useful for developing Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for each domain. The KPIs that have been endorsed for Australian Public Mental Health Services will be considered for further development and adaptation to other service settings. Top of page

Workforce development is a crucial aspect of quality and a critical enabler for mental health reform. Like many other areas, workforce development crosses areas of Commonwealth and state/ territory responsibility through undergraduate and postgraduate training places, and continuing education and professional development. The mental health workforce includes those who work in primary care, the public and private sectors, and the non-government community support sector. It includes a broad range of professions including counsellors, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, nurses and doctors. Workforce issues cross areas of direct service provision, teaching, research and administration. Understanding workforce issues also requires consideration of workplace culture and practices, which then influence recruitment and retention.

Although mental health was proactive in developing a multi-disciplinary workforce, like other areas of health, it still faces problems of limited supply, an insufficient and poorly distributed workforce, and, particularly in some professions and areas, an ageing workforce. Particular challenges face the workforce in rural and remote areas. We need to not only attract more staff, but also to consider how to use the skills and talents of the current workforce to best advantage. That may mean re-consideration of the role of psychiatrists in private practice, greater use of nurse practitioners or mental health nurses in primary care settings.

The use of innovative technology as a means of increasing access to treatment for people in remote areas can overcome some of the workforce challenges in these areas, along with enabling access for people who wish to remain anonymous. There has been insufficient development of the workforce in non-government organisations and a lack of clarity about roles, responsibilities, competencies and need for support across the different sectors. Staff in the mental health sector need to have a greater understanding of how to promote social and emotional wellbeing and bring a stronger recovery orientation to their work. Top of page

Supporting and developing leaders in mental health service delivery is crucial to the development of sustainable innovative services. Leaders and champions are important in all professions and all sectors, including government, to support the implementation of new and proven service models and practices. This needs to be underpinned by an active research agenda, including both quantitative and qualitative research led by or involving consumers.

Research and evaluation should cover relevant areas such as effectiveness of treatment, community support services, service coordination models, prognosis and course of illness; and should cover the life span and service system so that we can develop or expand services based on a solid body of information regarding their effectiveness. Clinician led research, and engagement of the academic sector with clinical service development has been shown to support the evaluation and acceptance of evidence based methods into mainstream practice. Several models of better promulgating research exist - including Cochrane collaborations and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the United Kingdom.

* These indicators require further development