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New plan to increase life span for people living with serious mental illness

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Evidence and policy recommendations to improve the physical health care and life span of people living with serious mental illness is featured in a Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) special supplement, published today.

People living with serious mental illness die up to 20 years prematurely from mostly preventable physical health conditions, including diabetes, cancer, smoking-related respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease.

The clinical practice evidence and policy recommendations presented in the MJA supplement were compiled by clinicians and consumers, working together for the Being Equally Well project to fill gaps in knowledge, policy and practice and support improved health care for people with serious mental illness.

The Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, a health and education policy think tank led Being Equally Well, a national collaborative project to provide policy makers, services and practitioners with the best available evidence on how to improve the health and life span of the more than 470,000 Australians who live with serious mental illness.

Fragmented health care, the lack of communication and connection between mental health care and physical health care, the stigma and discrimination experienced in accessing health care and the lack of tailored supports for people with limited access to appropriate and necessary health care are barriers to good health for people with serious mental illness.

Accompanying the MJA supplement, the Mitchell Institute will host a national online symposium to launch a national Implementation Action Plan to inform and influence service providers, health agencies, funders and policy-makers to act on the recommended improvements.

Professor of Health Policy at the Mitchell Institute and Australian Health Policy Collaboration Director, Professor Rosemary Calder said there is an urgent need for better health system arrangements that prioritize and support both the physical and mental health of people at the same time.

“The Being Equally Well Implementation Action Plan sets out the steps – the decisions, the ways in which services are provided, the supports provided to individuals – that will help set in place sustainable changes in how health care is provided,” Professor Calder said.

“It’s a map for health practitioners, services and for government agencies and health systems administrators because the doctors and health professionals who provide physical health care to people with serious mental illness, the frontline health professionals, cannot bring about change and progress without adequate support through system improvements.”

Recommendations include:

  • Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists to lead development of integrated clinical care guidelines and development of shared care protocols for practitioners
  • investment in a workforce of clinical care ‘navigators’ to actively support consumers and to integrate care for individuals by primary health and specialist mental health services
  • establishment of peer support roles in primary health care
  • expanded roles for community pharmacists to provide medication management and facilitate shared care with allied health professionals
  • preventive use of antidiabetic medication and nutrition interventions led by dietitians
  • a systematic approach to quality improvement through the establishment of a national quality registry and an annual report to the Australian Council of Health Ministers.
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The Being Equally Well Implementation Action Plan is the conclusion of the national collaborative policy project supported by Mitchell Institute and co-led with Equally Well Australia – a national network of more than 90 organizations working to improve physical health care for people living with mental illness.

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