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A nurse led initiative aiming to improve the physical health of people with mental illness is being trialled in the ACT this year.

The three-year SYNERGY project, a partnership of the University of Canberra and ACT Health, will trial a Physical Health Nurse Consultant (PHNC) within the ACT Community Mental Health Service.

“It’s a nurse led initiative assisting with improving the physical health outcomes with those diagnosed with mental illness,” Project Leader University of Canberra Professor Brenda Happell said.

“Research shows the physical health in people diagnosed with mental illness is poorer than that of the general population, however there is not much around the solution.”

Consumers of mental health services with psychosis were two to three times more likely to have comorbid cardio-metabolic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes or stroke and die 10-25 years prematurely compared to the general population, Professor Happell said. Despite this, they often received very low rates of cardio-metabolic care as part of standard care, she said.

The PHNC service was developed to provide a coordinated, nurse led intervention to improve physical health care, Professor Happell said. The service will be offered alongside usual mental health care.

The PHNC will provide cardio-metabolic assessment, risk management and care coordination. There would be a whole gamut of observations and assessment, including physical health and activity and diet, Professor Happell said.

“The intervention group will work positively with the physical health of people with mental illness. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, people will have an individual plan around what might work best for them. If something hasn’t worked for them, then we can look at what’s happened and alternatives. If something has been helpful then we can further work on that. It’s dynamic.”

Professor Happell said she hoped the results of the project demonstrated the cost-effectiveness and positive outcomes of a nurse led initiative to improve the physical health of people with a mental illness.

“We will look for improvements or no further deterioration in physical health, for some that may be the best possible outcome.”

The service will measure improvements in the burden of disease risk factors, consumer experience of care and cost-effectiveness.

The outcomes are also aimed to help inform health policy with the area outlined a priority issue for the National Mental Health Commission.