The availability of information is critical in allowing us to ask, and to answer, the right questions about mental health care in Australia. For this reason, information development was identified as a continuing priority over the life of the National Mental Health Strategy.

The 'first edition' statement of national priorities for mental health information was released in June 1999 and signalled a major investment by all jurisdictions in improving the range and quality of information to support service delivery and planning purposes. A central feature of the directions taken was the introduction of an outcome focus in mental health, through the implementation of a core set of standardised measures for monitoring the progress of consumers in all mental health services. This work has put Australia at the forefront of international developments in this field and impacted on all areas of service delivery. Achieving this progress has required substantial cooperation between all governments and other major parties.

The current document represents an update on the earlier statement and outlines the national priorities for further developing mental health information over the period of the National Mental Health Plan 2003-2008 and beyond. Designed to align with the key themes of the Plan, it recognises that while much has been achieved, the task of building an 'informed mental health system' is far from complete. The central challenge ahead is to apply the various information tools developed in recent years in ways that genuinely improve mental health care in Australia.

The document outlines an extensive work program that will require continued effort by all governments. Developed as a consensus statement between the Australian, State and Territory governments, the work program acknowledges the individual responsibilities of each jurisdiction and also highlights that ongoing collaboration between jurisdictions will be required to make real progress in many of the agreed priority areas.

The release of this document under the auspice of the National Mental Health Strategy reflects the commitment by all governments to continue improving mental health information within the services under their control as well as collaborating in areas where national coordination is required.

Dr Tony Sherbon
Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council
National Mental Health Working Group