Cuts to subsidized psychology sessions causing clients to ‘ration’ care, health workers warn

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler is facing a revolt from mental health experts, who want his government to reinstate “lifesaving” cheaper psychology sessions.

Several groups representing psychologists, emergency service workers and allied health professionals have penned a letter to Mark Butler calling on him to restore additional mental health support, or risk patients spilling over from psychology practices into already over-burdened emergency departments.

In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Morrison government announced a $100 million commitment to double the number of Medicare-subsidized mental health sessions available to patients each year, from 10 to 20.

Late last year, the new Labor government announced the so-called “Better Access Initiative” would revert to 10 subsidized sessions, arguing an independent report by the University of Melbourne found the program was not serving all Australians equally, and that those from lower- socio economic backgrounds and regional areas were missing out.

However, the report also stated that on balance, “the evidence from the evaluation suggests that the additional 10 sessions should continue to be made available and should be targeted towards those with more complex mental health needs.”

Letter warns cuts puts patients at risk of harm

In a letter to the minister, the groups — including the Australian Psychological Society, Rural Health Alliance, Victorian Ambulance Union and the Australian Federal Police Association — argue the decision puts “patients at risk of harm or preventable loss of life” and “threatens the safety of emergency services personnel and health care workers dealing with an increase in mental health admissions.”

“The government’s decision to halve this program will reduce the quantity and quality of mental health care available to tens of thousands of Australians and create a significant risk of under-treated or no-longer-treated patients spilling over from psychology practices and into already stretched GP clinics and emergency departments,” the letter states.

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