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Better Access now poorer access

A recently published report in The Medical Journal of Australia, using data from the Better Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) project, has shown that under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners (Better Access) initiative, patients do indeed have better access to mental health care.  The analysis, which looked at the GP management of depression (as the most frequently managed psychological problem in general practice), also showed that under the Better Access initiative GPs remain heavily involved in the management of this condition.  What this demonstrates, which the AMA has been saying all along, is that GPs play a very important role in mental health care. GPs are at the front line every day in helping individuals and their families through traumatic events, family crises and ongoing mental and other health conditions.

19 Aug 2012

A recently published report in The Medical Journal of Australia, using data from the Better Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) project, has shown that under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners (Better Access) initiative, patients do indeed have better access to mental health care. 

The analysis, which looked at the GP management of depression (as the most frequently managed psychological problem in general practice), also showed that under the Better Access initiative GPs remain heavily involved in the management of this condition.  What this demonstrates, which the AMA has been saying all along, is that GPs play a very important role in mental health care. GPs are at the front line every day in helping individuals and their families through traumatic events, family crises and ongoing mental and other health conditions.

The mental health services provided by GPs are easily accessed, non-threatening, non-discriminatory, and inexpensive compared with mental health hospitalisation.

According to BEACH data, there are around one million GP consultations involving a mental health issue each year. Prior to the Government’s cuts to patient rebates for GP mental health services, announced in the 2010-11 Budget, there was significant trend growth in the use of Better Access mental health services accessed through GPs.

Unfortunately, a recent AMA survey has found that with the Budget cuts to the patient rebates for GP mental health services, Better Access has become poorer access. 

According to the survey, the proportion of GPs bulk-billing patients for preparing mental health plans dropped from 78.1 per cent before the cuts to 38.6 per cent once they were implemented. While I am encouraged that a significant percentage of GPs are not prepared to devalue their services, the cuts to patient rebates for GP mental health services has resulted in increased costs to patients, which affects the ability of some patients to seek care.

These cuts will do nothing to improve outcomes for patients with common mental health conditions. Evaluations of Better Access published in 2011 showed the initiative was providing good value for money and fulfilling its promise of improved access to care.  The evidence was there, the initiative was working well, but this Government chose to ignore it in favour of improving the Budget bottom line.

The funding for GP mental health services through the Better Access program must be restored to ensure continued patient access to cost-effective mental health care. The MJA article has reinforced the need for this to happen, and completely contradicts the ill-informed views of those who have portrayed GPs as glorified referrers.

 


Published: 19 Aug 2012