New plan to increase life expectancy for people with serious mental illness

Evidence and policy recommendations to improve the physical health care and life span of people with serious mental illness appear in a Special Supplement to the Australian Medical Journal (MJA), published today.

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

Clinical practice guides and policy recommendations presented in the MJA Supplement have been compiled by clinicians and consumers, working together for the Being Equally Well Project to fill gaps in knowledge, policy, and practice and support the improvement of health care for people with critical mental illness.

The Mitchell Institute at the University of Victoria, a think tank for health policy and education, 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 lifespan of the more than 470,000 Australians living with serious mental illness.

The fragmentation of health care, the lack of communication and association between mental health care and physical health care, the stigma and discrimination experienced in accessing health care, and the lack of specific support for people with limited access to appropriate and necessary health care are all barriers to the good health of people Those with a serious mental illness.

Along with the MJA Supplement, the Mitchell Institute will host a national webinar to launch a National Action Plan to inform and influence providers, health agencies, funders, and policy makers to work on recommended improvements.

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

“The Implementation Equal Action Plan sets out the steps – decisions, the ways in which services are delivered, the support provided to individuals – that will help establish sustainable changes in how health care is delivered,” said Professor Calder.

“It is a map for health practitioners, services, government agencies, and health system administrators because physicians and health professionals who provide physical health care to people with serious mental illnesses, and health professionals on the front lines, cannot make change and progress without adequate support through system improvements.”

Recommendations include:

  • The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists to lead the development of integrated clinical care guidelines and development of shared care protocols for practitioners
  • Investing in a workforce of clinical care ‘navigators’ to actively support consumers and integrate care for individuals through primary health and specialist mental health services
  • Establishing peer support roles in primary health care
  • Expand roles for community pharmacists to provide drug administration and facilitate shared care with allied health professionals
  • Preventive use of antidiabetic medications and nutrition interventions led by dieticians
  • A structured approach to improving quality through the establishment of a national quality registry and annual report to the Australian Council of Health Ministers.

The Action Plan for Being Equally Well is the conclusion to a national collaborative policy project supported by the Mitchell Institute and co-led by Equally Well Australia – a national network of more than 90 organizations working to improve physical health care for people with mental illness.

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