The Victorian government has launched an inquiry into a mental health organisation alleged to have falsified suicide helpline data so it could receive state government funding, with the acting premier James Merlino confirming on Friday the CEO of the organisation had resigned over the issue.
The organisation, On the Line, delivers counselling and mental health services throughout Australia via outsourced telephone and digital counsellors for hotlines including Suicide Line Victoria, MensLine, the Defence All-hours Support Line, and the Regional Access Natural Disasters line.
Samantha Fredericks, who began as CEO for the organisation in April 2020, resigned after an external investigation revealed “inflated reporting figures” had been submitted to government, a statement from On the Line provided to Guardian Australia said.
Asked about the incident on Friday, Merlino said the CEO of the organisation had stood down.
“An inquiry is under way and there will be engagement between my department and this particular organisation,” Merlino said. “Absolutely, this is a concern.”
Merlino added there were a “range of datasets” the government examined before allocating funding to organisations, including emergency department figures and the number and type of calls made to other hotlines.
On the Line also receives funding from the federal government, primary health networks, and other mental health support organisations including BeyondBlue.
On the Line said in a statement: “An inquiry had been launched to understand the full extent of it.
“On the Line is working closely with an external auditor to understand exactly what went wrong.”
Suicide Line Victoria is one of several mental health services provided by On the Line. Between 2017 and 2020, there was a 70% increase in calls and online sessions across On the Line’s services.
Coroner’s court data shows suicide rates did not increase through 2020 despite the pandemic, though there was a significant increase in calls to all mental health and crisis helplines, and an increase in reports of people experiencing mental health distress. Data so far for 2021 is showing a similar trend.