Tristar Medical Group concerned lack of mental health funding from Murray PHN will endanger valued roles

Tristar Medical Group says its mental health program acted as a buffer for acute care. Without funding, mental health services manager Brett McKinnon said buffering of the system would be less prominent.
Tristar Medical Group says its mental health program acted as a buffer for acute care. Without funding, mental health services manager Brett McKinnon said buffering of the system would be less prominent.

TRISTAR Medical Group believes health services helping thousands of Bendigo residents, including young adults, are in jeopardy following a change to the funding model.

The group has called on the Murray Primary Health Network to explain why funding has ceased for mental health nurses working as part of its mental health program.

As part of sweeping reforms, Primary Health Networks this year became responsible for allocating federal funding for primary mental health services.

Tristar mental health services manager Brett McKinnon said the group formerly received $1.6 million to provide services across the Murray PHN catchment.

The medical group’s latest bid for funding was unsuccessful, with Murray PHN allocating nothing towards the program’s continuation.

We have to go back to the drawing board and look at what services we can, or can not, provide.

Brett McKinnon, Tristar Medical Group

Mr McKinnon expected the lack of funding would have ‘a significant impact’ on the community.

“We have to go back to the drawing board and look at what services we can, or can not, provide,” he said.

“Given the lack of funding it’s going to be really difficult for us to maintain those services.”

The seven credentialed mental health nurses employed by Tristar in the Bendigo region delivered a combined total of 3696 individual patient consults in 12 months.

Bendigo-based Tristar GPs delivered 3247 mental health consults and 1223 GP mental health care plans.

“The complete removal of those funds not only is a slap in the face for the GPs and takes the locus of controls away from the general practice and GPs, its a clear rebuff to mental health nurses who have supplied quality care in the past 10-plus years,” Mr McKinnon said.

A Tristar GP and a mental health nurse also attend Bendigo Senior Secondary College on a weekly basis during the school terms to provide consultations to students.

“It is our belief that if we did not have this service available our students could experience a higher incidence of significant mental and physical health concerns,” the college wrote in a supporting letter seen by the Bendigo Advertiser.

Mr McKinnon said the GP in schools program, available to more than 5000 students in five secondary colleges including BSSC, was significantly in jeopardy.

Mr McKinnon said Tristar would prioritise resources to cater to the needs of GPs in an in-clinic context. 

Dr Ashraful Mamun at the Tristar clinic in Kangaroo Flat. He is concerned the lack of funding for the medical group's mental health program will negatively affect his patients.

Dr Ashraful Mamun at the Tristar clinic in Kangaroo Flat. He is concerned the lack of funding for the medical group's mental health program will negatively affect his patients.

Experienced mental health nurses are only a couple of doors away when Dr Ashraful Mamun, at the Tristar clinic in Kangaroo Flat, is seeking to refer a patient.

He said the benefits of having the nurses based in the clinic were manifold, from ease of booking last-minute appointments to building rapport within the patient and the team providing their care.

Dr Mamun believed his patients would suffer if the services previously available at the clinic were discontinued or became more onerous to access.

“With mental health, to start all over again is difficult,” he said. 

“The question is, why? This system is working.”

Murray PHN chief executive Matt Jones said there were some excellent service providers who were not selected as preferred providers.

“This does not reflect on the quality of their care, but on the depth of high quality proposals that we received,” he said.

“Non-preferred service providers are currently being advised of the reasons in order to inform and improve their future bids for funding, while some existing service providers opted not to submit a proposal.”

Murray PHN awarded a share of $4.8 million in federal funding to 11 preferred mental health service providers and a number of supporting agencies within the region. 

The Murray PHN region spans almost 100,000 square kilometres from Mildura in the north-west to Albury-Wodonga in the north-east, and south to the borders of both the North Western Melbourne and Eastern Melbourne PHNs.

Haylee Kennedy, Glen Careedy, Kim Sykes, and Harry McAnaulty represent four of five organisations to partner in primary mental health service provision in our region. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Haylee Kennedy, Glen Careedy, Kim Sykes, and Harry McAnaulty represent four of five organisations to partner in primary mental health service provision in our region. Picture: DARREN HOWE

“In a system with finite funds, we are unable to fund all proposals that we receive,” Mr Jones said.

“Our robust evaluation process ensured that our preferred providers met all criteria to a greater extent than other bidders.” 

He said proposals were scored by individual panel members and ranked in order of score, which meant the final recommendations on the preferred tenderers were unanimous.

“The bids were rated on their understanding of their local system, their ability to ensure to deliver step up and step down care, and their ability to demonstrate both equity of access and team-based access to clinical care coordination,” Mr Jones said.

Applicants had to demonstrate strong GP engagement and involvement of general practices.

Bendigo Community Health Services was among the 11 preferred providers.

Partnering agencies included headspace Bendigo, Bendigo & District Aboriginal Co-Operative, Bendigo Primary Care Centre and the Victorian AIDS Council.