Federal Government cuts mental health care program despite Better Access Review findings

Australian Psychological Society

The Australian Psychological Society (APS), Australia’s peak body for psychology, is deeply disappointed by the Federal Government’s decision to cut subsidised mental health sessions despite a government-commissioned review released today calling for the program to remain in place.

APS President Dr Catriona Davis-McCabe was deeply concerned with the decision to cut the 10 additional subsidised Medicare sessions for millions of eligible Australians.

“The government commissioned Better Access evaluation released today found workforce shortages and location as key barriers to patient care which makes the axing of the additional sessions program harder to understand”.

“This program safely gave many people telehealth or in-person psychological care for the first time in their lives, yet many patients will now have to ration or stop treatment altogether.

“Just as people shouldn’t be asked to ration vital medicines like insulin, they shouldn’t have to ration mental health care,” she said.

Dr Davis-McCabe welcomed the opportunity to work with the government to better deliver services to areas of most need but cautioned that replacing popular programs with nothing was not suitable.

“The evaluations’ authors found the program is incredibly popular among patients and psychologists and should remain.

“The program costs just over 1% of the total spend per annum on mental health-related services.

“Limitations identified in the evaluation could have been addressed without removing lifesaving services from people,” she said.

APS analysis found more than one million additional subsidised psychological sessions were accessed by patients in the last financial year due to the program, with December the busiest month of the year.

“December is the busiest time of year for psychology services. Removing a key affordability measure as people struggle with the cost of Christmas and the sharply rising cost of living will be too much for too many” said Dr Davis-McCabe.

Despite the growing and sustained demand for psychology services the Federal Government is currently meeting only 35% of its psychology workforce target, the largest shortfall of any mental health profession.

“These issues aren’t going away. Demand for services continues to break records, with one in three psychologists unable to take on new patients. Before the pandemic only 1 in 100 of us had closed books.

“We need to increase the psychology workforce to get wait times down and increase accessibility,” she said.

The Productivity Commission has also found that small and targeted investment would improve the federal budget through cost savings of $18bn per year in forgone health, social and judicial expenses.

“Investing in more mental health services is a win-win for the economy and the community.

“During a mental health crisis, we need to strengthen Medicare, not cut it. Patients face significant costs even with the subsidy, so cutting it completely for millions of eligible Australians reduces affordability when we should be increasing it,” she said

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