Initiatives were taken early in the National Mental Health Strategy to begin addressing these deficiencies and build the information culture envisaged by the Strategy.
The period of the First National Mental Health Plan, extending between 1993 and 1998, can be described from an information perspective as the 'research and development phase'. Projects were undertaken to trial new measurement concepts, develop consistent data standards and commission specific research that would gather critical data to inform future policy. At the forefront during this period were projects aimed at developing consumer outcome measures for routine use, the design of a casemix classification system for mental health services, and research to quantify the extent of mental disorders in the community. Considerable effort was also given to put in place a national collection that met the accountability requirements of the National Mental Health Strategy and enable progress to be monitored regularly.
The renewal of the Strategy under the Second National Mental Health Plan (1998-2003) introduced new priorities, culminating in the release in June 1999 of the 'first edition' of a national framework for mental health information development.1 The document signalled a transition from the earlier emphasis on research and development and national-level collections to the important role of clinical information systems in supporting local service delivery and quality improvement activities. The framework outlined the case to develop comprehensive, local clinical information systems within mental health that would:
- support and encourage good practice;
- regularly inform about consumer outcomes;
- inform judgments about value for money; and
- produce national data as a by-product.
Part 2 of this document describes the status of information development in each of the major areas of activity. In summary, the work has impacted on all areas of service delivery and extended beyond the public sector into private hospital sector. From its relatively undeveloped base in 1993, mental health now leads the health industry in several areas, particularly in its commitment to the use of standardised measures for assessing consumer outcomes and the establishment of a national system for reporting on community care. Achieving this progress has required substantial cooperation between all governments and other major parties.
1 Department of Health and Aged Care (1999) Mental Health Information Development: National Information Priorities and Strategies under the Second National Mental Health Plan 1998-2003 (First Edition June 1999). Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.