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27 May 2017

Health Minister Greg Hunt will work directly with doctors to develop a mental health care package for the medical profession.

Addressing the AMA National Conference on May 26, Mr Hunt said a recent spate of young doctor suicides – including that of Deputy Chair of the AMA Doctors-in-Training Council Dr Chloe Abbott – has been a cause for great concern.

The Minister said that after speaking with AMA President Dr Michael Gannon and former President Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, he was determined to develop a mental health package targeting doctors.

“One of the main things we introduced in the Budget was prioritising mental health. For the first time, this has been raised to the top level as one of the four pillars of the long-term national health Plan,” Mr Hunt said.

“And we were able to invest significantly in mental health, both in the election, but in particular, in the Budget as well. There’s a very strong focus on suicide prevention with support for suicide prevention hotspots and an $11 million initiative, but also complementing that with the rural telehealth initiative for psychological services.

“Much of this is deeply important preventive health work on the mental health side and it goes with what has to happen in, I think, the medical work force. The case of Chloe Abbott was outlined and I’m aware that many people have been affected by Chloe’s loss, as well as others.

“And Michael and I have been speaking this week, and also been speaking in recent weeks with Mukesh Haikerwal, and I am determined to offer a partnership with the Government and the AMA for us to provide new investment directly into caring for carers.

“And so I want to announce that we will offer a partnership going forward and we will develop the suicide prevention, mental health programs with the AMA and the broader medical work force for suicide prevention and mental health support, specifically for doctors and other medical work force professionals.

“One of the critical roles that you have is psycho-social services. There’s the clinical work with those with mental health issues, but then there is the support services.”

The Minister offered few details of the partnership, stressing that it was still in its conception stage.

But he was determined to take action.

Following his address to the conference, he spoke more to the media about the plan.

“There have been some terrible tragedies in the sector. Michael Gannon and other doctors, Mukesh Haikerwal, have talked to me about that,” he said.

“What we’ll be doing is developing a caring for carers package which will be assisting with specialist channels, because sometimes, and this is what’s been explained to me, those who are doctors or nurses (a) will feel that they shouldn’t be seeking help even though they’re just the same as everybody, and (b) they might feel professionally uncomfortable. Even though they might be in the depths of despair they’ll still feel that professional discomfort at reaching out.

“And so if they have some specialised services for them then they will feel more comfortable, we hope, and that’s what’s been proposed by the profession.”

He did not know if the plan would address the mandatory reporting lines, where doctors might fear they would be reported to the Medical Board when they seek help.

He also promised funds to the partnership, but could not say how much at this stage.

“There’s been no proposal put to me yet, but as I’ve said, in designing of this, what I really want to do is work with the AMA and the GPs,” he said.

“What we’re doing is we’re designing together, and from that we’ll have the outcome.”

Chris Johnson



Published: 27 May 2017