Mental health assessment and referral

A new mental health assessment and referral system is being developed to make it easier for Tasmanians to find the support they need.

When the Central Intake and Referral Service (CIRS) is fully functional, there will be a single entry point for all Tasmanians needing mental health support, plus their family and friends. This single entry point will be the Head to Health Phone Service.

Trained professionals based in Tasmania will assess callers’ needs and support referrals to the most appropriate local services. This includes government-funded services, private services, and community sector services.

GPs and other health professionals will also be able to use the CIRS for assistance in connecting their patients to the right level of care, delivered by the most appropriate provider at the most appropriate place and time.

The intake team will use the mental health Initial Assessment and Referral (IAR) decision support tool to ensure people are matched to the care that most suits their needs at the time.

The CIRS is being introduced in stages. The first stage will focus on integration of the local intake component of the existing national Head to Health Phone Service (see below).

Development of the CIRS is being led by the Tasmanian Department of Health, with input from Primary Health Tasmania. It is jointly funded by the Australian and Tasmanian governments under the Tasmanian Bilateral Agreement for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

How will people access the CIRS?

Tasmanians will access the CIRS through the free national Head to Health Phone Service (1800 595 212), which is funded by the Australian Government.

People needing mental health support, their family and friends, and the GPs and other health professionals providing their care will all be able to access the CIRS through this single phone number.

Callers will be put through to an intake team member in Tasmania.

Calls to this number are free and discussions are confidential.

How will the CIRS help consumers?

When people feel they need mental health support, they don’t always know where to start – especially if it’s the first time they’ve felt this need.

There is a wide range of mental health services available across Tasmania, providing different levels of care. Some options are free, some have a cost; some need a referral or mental health plan, some don’t. There are in-person services, telehealth services, phone lines, and online support. Compounding the complexity is the problem of waiting times and getting support while waiting.

This can all be difficult to navigate.

While people are always encouraged to talk to their GP about their health concerns, this isn’t always possible. They might not have a regular GP, or may need help before they can get an appointment.

The CIRS will make it easier for people to find the mental health service that is right for them. It will provide a streamlined assessment and referral process which will be a simpler and quicker experience for the consumer. And use of the Initial Assessment and Referral (IAR) tool (see below) will increase the likelihood that people will be connected to the level of care and provider that’s most appropriate for them at any given time.

Tasmanians will simply call the free Health to Health Phone Service and talk to the team in Tasmania about their needs. The team will determine the level of support the callers need and connect them to the most appropriate service.

The CIRS will also help Tasmanians by supporting their care team (see below).

How will it help health professionals?

GPs and other health professionals can also find it challenging to find appropriate mental health services for their patients.

Health professionals will be able to call the Head to Health Phone Service and work with the Central Intake team to assess their patients’ needs (using the IAR tool) and connect them to an appropriate mental health service.

In this way, the intake team can help save time for busy GPs, while making it possible for them to continue to coordinate their patients’ care.

Health professionals who have been providing mental health care for a patient can also use the Central Intake team to step their patient up or down to other levels of care.

What is the IAR tool?

The IAR (initial assessment and referral) tool is a digital decision aid for health professionals which is being introduced throughout Australia. It aims to create a common language across the mental health sector to communicate referrals and a person’s treatment needs.

The IAR tool has been developed to support a stepped care model, where a person presenting to the health system is matched to the least intensive level of care that most suits their current treatment need.

The IAR tool is already being used by Head to Health services nationally, and will be used by the Central Intake team.

More information about IAR, including free training for GPs and other health professionals, is available here.

When will this happen?

The CIRS is being introduced in stages.

In the first stage, the Head to Health Phone Service for callers in Tasmania will be integrated with the CIRS.

Over time, a number of other existing mental health and alcohol and other drug phone services may be integrated, noting that the CIRS will not replace any existing consumer advice and referral services.

The CIRS will operate alongside the Tasmanian Department of Health’s Access Mental Health phone service and will not result in any changes to the operation of that service.

How does the CIRS fit into Tasmania’s mental health plan?

The CIRS and the IAR tool are key activities within Rethink 2020 – Tasmania’s strategic plan for mental health.