Expansion of Better Access to Mental Health Initiative in response to Aged Care Royal Commission's COVID-19 Report

3 Dec 2020

This week the Government announced a range of new measures to improve access to mental health care and allied health support for residents living in aged care. This announcement is in response to the Aged Care Royal Commission’s COVID-19 Special Report after several COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes.

The Royal Commission’s Special Report included six recommendations for urgent improvement of the situation in the aged care sector, including urgent creation of MBS items to increase provision of allied health services, including mental health, to people in aged care during the pandemic.

Patients in nursing homes will now have access to the Better Access to Mental Health Care Initiative. This includes access to 20 individual psychotherapy sessions where their GP or psychiatrists determines they would clinically benefit from additional mental health support. This will ensure that all aged care residents can access Better Access initiative the same way as people living in the community. The Government will extend the flag fall items for GPs attending RACFs in person (face-to-face) to attendances for the purpose of providing Chronic Disease Management (CDM) services.

The Government is also implementing the increased access to allied health for residents of nursing homes measure, aimed at improving access to allied health services and incentives to deliver services in nursing homes. Under this measure, a GP education package will be delivered through PHNs to raise awareness among GPs on the importance of allied health for residents, with a focus on the role of allied health in supporting people with dementia.

To provide incentives to allied health professionals to deliver services in RACFs, these measures will:

  • Introduce new initial assessment allied health MBS items for services delivered in person in RACFs. These new initial assessment items will attract a 50 per cent price premium over the existing MBS allied health item rebates delivered in the community, recognising the additional time required to assess people living in RACFs, who mostly have complex needs. Existing MBS item rebates for allied health services will be retained for continuing care for people in RACFs.
  • Increase the maximum number of CDM allied health services from five per annum, to 10 per annum for eligible recipients of Commonwealth-supported residential aged care places for services provided in person or remotely via telehealth, for physical therapies including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and exercise physiology.
  • Introduce new MBS items for allied health professionals similar to those available for GPs, including a new flag fall item for the first in person (face-to-face) service provided by an allied health provider in a residential aged care facility to the cost of providing services outside of consulting rooms.

The amendment of MBS items to increase access to mental health and allied health services will start on 10 December and will last until 30 June 2022, followed by a review that will evaluate overall benefits and outcomes of this initiative.