Health Minister Sussan Ley defends Headspace despite mixed report card.

By Dan Conifer

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley has launched a strong defence of Headspace despite a major review delivering a mixed report card on the program.

Australia’s flagship youth mental health initiative began a decade ago and has grown to about 100 centres nationwide, which feature doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists.

But a landmark evaluation, led by the University of New South Wales, found it was providing a “small” benefit to clients while the cost per visit varied wildly between centres.

It showed about a quarter of young people significantly improved, while about 10 per cent significantly deteriorated.

Ms Ley told the ABC that Headspace was a “first class brand for vulnerable young people” and it would continue to receive support.

“We have confidence in the future of this model, for rural and regional Australia particularly,” she said.

“They’re all doing a terrific job in my view. [But] improvement of course can happen and will happen.”

The review said Headspace did well at reducing suicidal thoughts, and helped many people spend more time at work and study.

But the organisation admits it needs to improve drug and alcohol treatment and reach more culturally diverse young people.

Current centres to be supported for ‘foreseeable future’

The Federal Government received the independent report last year.

During the final fortnight of the election campaign, it guaranteed ongoing funding for Headspace.

Ms Ley said current centres would continue to be supported for the “foreseeable future”.

But the Minister warned it was “perfectly possible” funding could be shifted from unsuccessful centres over the longer-term.

“While Headspace is the brand that will continue to receive these Government dollars, that doesn’t mean these lead agencies who are contracted [to run centres] … are not pushed to deliver the most efficient spend for that dollar and deliver the best service for the client,” she said.

“If our dollars are not being delivered in the way that we expect, that will certainly be a red flag for the primary health network.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said analysis and review was needed but threw his support behind the organisation.

“On balance they do a good job, they do a very good job,” he said.

“I don’t think that headspace alone can be expected to solve all the challenges of youth mental health, but I have a pretty good opinion of them from what I’ve seen,” Mr Shorten said.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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