Federal Budget 2024/25 only scratches the surface of much needed mental health reform

Australian Psychological Society

Peak body for psychology the Australian Psychological Society (APS) welcomes the government’s focus on mental health reform in the 2024 Federal Budget but says much more investment is needed to overcome the challenges facing the community and the psychology sector.  

APS President Dr Catriona Davis-McCabe thanked Federal Health Minister the Hon Mark Butler MP and the Federal Government for their collaboration and commitment to improving Australians’ access to psychology services but said much more was needed. 

“This Federal Budget contains some good news, but there is so much more the government can be doing to help people right now. 

“The community wants more investment in psychology services right now, and tonight’s Budget falls short of that,” she said.  

The APS National Mental Health Survey (February 2024) of 2068 community members nationwide found that 95% of Australians see immediate government investment in psychology services as important. 73% agree that investing in psychology would reduce overall costs to the health system and economy.  

Dr Davis-McCabe said Australians are struggling to access care due to cost and workforce shortages

“75 per cent of the Australians report cost as one of their biggest barriers to accessing psychology services.

“During a cost-of-living crisis it is extremely disappointing patients will continue to face an average gap fee of $100. Too many people are using their credit card instead of a Medicare card to pay for their psychology treatment,” she said.

The government also announced it will establish 61 Medicare Mental Health Centres yet has allocated just $29 million towards the initiative.

“We want to see improved access for people who need it but to do this you need funding.

“We are profoundly disappointed the government has not committed to re-introducing the 20 Medicare-rebated sessions in this Federal Budget.

“Patients with, or at risk of developing complex mental health issues should at least have access to 20 Medicare-rebated sessions within Better Access.

“We firmly believe the number of sessions required for each client should be decided by the treating professional, not the government,” she said.

This position is supported by the community, with 76% of Australians agreeing the number of sessions they require should be determined by their psychologist, not the government. 

The Budget also revealed the government will explore the creation of a ‘psychology assistant’ role.

“While we welcome the government’s commitment to extending the broader mental health workforce, APS does not support professional substitution, said Dr Davis-McCabe.  

“Our well established and evidence-based position is that we need more psychologists in Australia. Substantial investment in the psychology workforce is fundamental to any reform efforts.

“The development of any role for psychology assistants must be psychology profession-led” she said. 

Dr Davis-McCabe also said a lack of new funding to reduce the psychology workforce shortfall is extremely disappointing for the APS.

“We simply do not have enough psychologists in Australia”.

“Multiple reports have shown the Federal Government is meeting just 35 per cent of its own workforce target for psychology. Our country is in the grips of a mental health crisis and yet, the Budget fails to address the shortfall.

“Australians expect to see the government invest in expanding our workforce and they want to see it happen now.

“More funding for psychology university places and paid prac placements is needed immediately if we are to address the shortfall in our workforce,” said Dr Davis-McCabe.  

 The APS will continue to advocate for: 

  • Reinstating 20 Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions for people at-risk of or experiencing complex mental health issues 
  • Investing in more psychology postgraduates and overseas trained psychologists
  • Paid placements for psychology under the newly announced Commonwealth Prac Payment 
  • Replicating GP regional relocation incentives for psychologists to make psychology services more accessible in rural and remote areas
  • Increasing and indexing the current Medicare rebate to make psychology services more affordable 
  • Reducing the out-of-pocket expenses for 14 to 25-year-old through a new Medicare Safety Net threshold of $0 applying to these services, and
  • Getting a 1:500 psychologist to student ratio in primary and secondary schools. 

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