National mental health information priorities 2nd edition

Executive summary

Page last updated: June 2005

This document outlines the priorities that will guide the development of national mental health information over the next five years and beyond. Prepared as a consensus statement between the Australian, State and Territory governments under the framework of the National Mental Health Strategy, the document carries forward and extends the work undertaken over the past decade to foster an information culture within the mental health sector.

The priorities described are concerned with 'national information'. This concept is used to refer information that is comparable nationally, national in coverage, or nationally relevant. It also encompasses information that is cross-jurisdictional (Australian and State and Territory governments and other agencies, public and private) and that requires cooperation and coordination between jurisdictions for health information activities to proceed on a coherent basis.

The first edition of national mental health information priorities was released in June 1999 and stimulated major developments by all jurisdictions. In preparing new priorities to move forward under the National Mental Health Plan 2003-2008, it was recognised that the four overarching themes underpinning the 1999 first edition workplan remain relevant to the years ahead and will continue to guide the next phase. They describe a vision for the mental health sector in which information is used to:

  • strengthen the focus on consumer outcomes;
  • support improvements in service quality;
  • shift the focus of concern from cost to value for money; and
  • improve our understanding of population needs.
This second edition recognises that much has been achieved in building an information foundation for mental health, but the task is far from complete. Achieving the vision over the next period of the National Mental Health Strategy requires consolidation of the work already underway, as well as extension into new areas of activity that are driven by the requirements of the National Mental Health Plan 2003-2008.

Three key challenges are identified:
  • Moving from information collection to information use - The investments made so far by jurisdictions have concentrated primarily on the basic collection aspects of information – putting systems in place, preparing documentation, training the clinical workforce and so forth. However, collection of information has little value unless it is used to support decision making. The next phase of information development will focus on fostering a service delivery culture in which information is used to support decisions at all levels. For this to occur, feedback systems are required that provide timely access to those collecting these data. Additionally, incentives and training need to be in place to facilitate individual service providers and organisations in using information routinely for clinical review, evaluating performance, benchmarking and related activities. Top of page

  • From projects to sustainable systems - Securing the long-term sustainability of the initiatives that have been taken so far will be a focus over the years ahead. Much of the work has been conducted as special projects or 'research and development' activities, involving time limited funds and appointment of special task groups. While most jurisdictions are progressively incorporating the new initiatives within their recurrent budgets and operational systems, sustainability requires attention to ongoing workforce training issues and longer term planning to keep the work evolving.

  • Responding to new policy drivers - The National Mental Health Plan 2003-2008 extends Australia's mental health policy beyond its initial focus on the specialist sector, particularly in the emphasis given to promotion and prevention, and the role of the primary health care sector. National information in relation to each of these is substantially less developed compared to other areas covered by the Plan and will require strategies to chart a future development path.
Within this context, the following ten priority areas are identified for action:
  1. Using outcome measurement to improve mental health care.

  2. Further development of a mental health casemix classification.

  3. Using information to improve safety in mental health care.

  4. Establishing performance indicators and benchmarking in mental health services.

  5. Strengthening workforce uptake and capacity to use information.

  6. Improving national minimum data sets for mental health care.

  7. Information to support mental health care provided external to the specialist sector.

  8. Monitoring population mental health and wellbeing.

  9. Information to support mental health prevention and promotion.

  10. Monitoring and reporting of progress under the National Mental Health Strategy.
A number of specific initiatives are identified in each of the ten priority areas. Overall, a total of 42 action items are outlined that will be the focus for mental health information development under the National Mental Health Plan 2003-2008.