About the NMHSPF

What is the NMHSPF?

The NMHSPF allows users to estimate need and expected demand for mental health care and the level and mix of mental health services required for a given population. The model draws on evidence and expert opinion to:

  1. Estimate the prevalence of mental illness across all disorders within the Australian population, by severity;
  2. Assign expected service demand rates to each severity level;
  3. Break down the population with demand for services into 155 need groups based on age group, severity of disorder and complexity;
  4. For each need group, outline the average types and quantities of services required over a 12-month period to provide adequate mental health care across bed-based, community clinical and psychosocial support services;
  5. Describe the staffing, salary and operational parameters associated with different service types; and
  6. Combine the above to produce benchmarks for the resources (e.g. beds, staff, dollars) and activity (e.g. service contacts, hours) required to deliver this adequate care to defined populations.

The main product of the NMHSPF is the NMHSPF Planning Support Tool (PST), an Excel-based planning tool allowing users to generate benchmarks for a given population. These resource estimates can be used to guide strategic planning and future investment in the mental health system at the national, jurisdictional and sub-jurisdictional level. The NMHSPF also provides an agreed national language for mental health services, with a detailed taxonomy and definitions of service types accompanied by national average staffing profiles and salaries.

The NMHSPF builds on state and territory expertise in population-based mental health service planning and has collated expert input from over 100 service managers and planners, public and private sector clinicians, community sector professionals, consumers, carers, technical experts and academics.


The NMHSPF addresses a commitment under the Fourth National Mental Health Plan to “develop a national service planning framework that establishes targets for the mix and level of the full range of mental health services, backed by innovative funding models” (Department of Health, 2009).

Water colour painting depicting the mind
Water colour painting depicting the mind

The Australian Government Department of Health funded the New South Wales Ministry of Health and Queensland Health to develop AUS V1 of the NMHSPF from 2011-2013. This initial project involved developing the first NMHSPF Planning Support Tool (NMHSPF-PST) – the Excel-based population mental health planning model – and a comprehensive package of user documentation to complement the NMHSPF-PST.

Following this initial phase, several jurisdictions explored or tested the NMHSPF products to varying degrees and identified aspects that would benefit from review to improve its face validity, accuracy and user friendliness. The Australian Government Department of Health subsequently funded the University of Queensland from January to August 2016 to revise the NMHSPF and produce a release version, AUS V2.1, suitable for use by jurisdictions and PHNs.

The NMHSPF is mentioned in the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan as a tool to be applied to support regional planning and resource allocation in a nationally consistent manner (Department of Health, 2017).

Between May 2017 and March 2018 The University of Queensland delivered a series of NMHSPF training workshops for mental health planning staff within Primary Health Networks and State and Territory jurisdictions to use the NMHSPF. There are now over 150 people who have completed the training and are licensed to have access to the NMHSPF. 

Further development

A program of work commenced in March 2018 to enhance the utility of the NMHSPF. The work is scheduled to be completed in 2021 and will include  

– Revising the epidemiology of the NMHSPF to provide a structure for
   regular updating and to incorporate the latest evidence

– Refining the care profiles of the NMHSPF to better account for the needs
   of special populations including

– Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations
– People living in rural and remote areas
– Culturally and linguistically diverse groups
– Forensic populations
– Youth groups

– Implementing incremental technical fixes and enhancements in response
   to licensed user feedback

– Supporting the transition of the NMHSPF-PST to a new technology platform