The Federal Government has announced the halving of Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions from 20 to 10 from 1 January 2023.
The number of subsidised sessions was increased under the former government during the pandemic due to the sharp rise in demand for mental health support.
Health Minister Mark Butler said the additional 10 sessions aggravated existing waiting lists and barriers to access, claiming the change made it more difficult for new patients to enter the system.
The government’s announcement came after the Australian Psychological Society (APS) last week called for the additional 10 sessions to be permanent.
Priscilla Brice, CEO of BEING, the independent New South Wales peak organisation for people with lived experience of mental health issues, agrees with the APS’ calls for the additional sessions to remain in place.
Brice emphasised the importance of changing the way we perceive the treatment of mental health issues.
“We wouldn’t deny somebody the treatment they would need for life-saving chemotherapy, so why wouldn’t we do the same for life-saving mental health support?” Brice said.
A recent survey of BEING’s members found that for those experiencing mental health issues, limits to subsidised psychological support are the second biggest concern in the provision of mental health services after sedation and physical restraint practices in mental health units/facilities.
“In many cases, delaying support for mental health issues leads to worsened outcomes for the patient and ultimately increases the level and cost of care required,” Brice continued.
“Even before the pandemic, we were experiencing a shortage of mental health professionals, particularly for regional and remote communities, which led to waiting times blowing out.
“Taking away access to sessions is not addressing the root issue at hand,” Brice added.
Brice fears the current economic climate, including the rising cost of living, insufficient income support for those that need it and housing instability due to rising mortgages and rents, will lead to a further increase in demand for mental health support.
“Now is not the time to reduce mental health support. Rather than halve the number of Medicare-subsidised psychology visits, we are calling on the Federal Government to undertake a fundamental, holistic review of mental health services alongside the states and territory governments to develop a comprehensive approach to mental health triage, treatment and therapy with particular focus on investment to address the shortage of practitioners in this space which results in long wait times,” Brice added.
In the new year, Minister Butler said he will be bringing together key stakeholders to discuss the evaluation, its conclusions, and the impact going forward.