Psychologists and psychiatrists say mental health must remain front of mind in Medicare

Australian Psychological Society

Australia’s largest peak bodies for mental health are calling for the Federal Government to support and protect Australians’ access to expert mental health services by including psychology and psychiatry in a new panel tasked with strengthening the Medicare system.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) and Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), representing more than 35,000 mental health experts nationwide, welcome the Australian Government’s announcement about the establishment of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce.

The APS and the RANZCP support the Government’s commitment to restore affordable and accessible health care for Australians but urge the government to ensure psychology and psychiatry have a seat at the table of this taskforce.

APS President Tamara Cavenett said collaboration and alignment across all groups working to improve access, affordability and outcomes had never been more important.

“ABS data released just one week ago shows the shocking levels of mental ill-health sweeping the nation, with almost a quarter (21.4%) of Australians suffering a mental disorder during 2020-21.

“APS research this year found nationally 1 in 3 psychologists are unable to take new patients due to overwhelming demand. Before the pandemic this was 1 in 100.

“Australians need expert mental health care, and they rely on Medicare to get it. The Strengthening Medicare Review is a core part of the solution to these problems, not having expert mental health representation on the taskforce simply does not make sense,” she said.

Ms Cavenett said Australians don’t want to see that their mental health as secondary to their physical health.

“It is a misconception that Medicare is purely for physical health. Medicare is relied upon by hundreds of thousands of Australians each week seeking expert mental health care from psychologists and psychiatrists.

“At a time where we know children and young people are presenting to emergency departments with increasing rates of self-harm and suicidality, and when suicide is the leading cause of death for some age groups, mental health needs to be at the heart of Medicare.

“Mental health is the largest and fastest growing demand in primary care.

“Psychology and psychiatry representation on this critical taskforce will reassure patients that Medicare supports their mental health needs into the future, and it will reassure us, as mental health professionals, that the government gives the same importance to funding, access and quality assurance in mental health,” she said.

RANZCP President Associate Professor Vinay Lakra said

“It is imperative that health professionals with specific expertise in mental health services delivered via the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) are also included within the membership of the Taskforce.

“One in 5 Australians report that they have a mental or behavioural condition during any 12-month period, with challenges to mental health exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Psychiatrists are critical to improving access and promoting collaborative care across the spectrum of mental health problems, with significant liaison required between those delivering primary mental health care and psychiatrists delivering secondary and tertiary mental health care”.

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