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Selasa, 12 Oktober 2021

Mental health nurses seek urgent access to Medicare subsidies amid growing crisis - ABC News

Australia's top mental health experts say they are frustrated highly skilled mental health nurses are being "sidelined" during the nation's pandemic response.

The Australian College of Mental Health Nurses said mental health nurses should be urgently given access to a broader range of Medicare subsidies to help address the growing crisis.

Research from the Black Dog Institute reveals the number of young Australian workers reporting psychological distress has doubled.

Lifeline has also reported record demand with a 40 per cent increase in calls this year.

The college said its members were being denied access to crucial funding at a time when their skills were desperately needed.

The college's president, Professor Michael Hazelton, said support services were under pressure.

"Mental health nurses are ready and able to help but are limited in what they can do due to not being able to access Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) funding," Professor Hazelton said.

Closeup of a man with a beard.
Professor Hazelton says mental health nurses are limited by not being able to access Medicare Benefits Schedule funding.(Supplied)

Credentialed mental health nurses are qualified registered nurses and have also completed postgraduate study specific to mental health.

"They have an extensive range of capabilities including counselling and psychotherapy skills, medication administration and monitoring, and physical health assessment," Professor Hazelton said.

Psychologists accessing majority of funds

Professor of mental health at Southern Cross University, John Hurley, said the current funding model is skewed towards psychologists over other trained professionals.

"Around 90 per cent of all the Better Access [Benefits] funds go to one single discipline which offers similar sorts of interventions and similar sorts of approaches," he said.

Table: Better Access Benefits paid by provider type, 2020-21

Provider

Per cent of benefits paid

Clinical Psychologist

34.3

General Practitioner

28.2

Psychologist

27.9

Psychiatrist

5

Social Worker

3.3

Other Medical Practitioner

0.9

Occupational Therapist

0.5

Total

100

Data extracted October 8, 2021, and is subject to change (e.g. if claims are processed late). Source: Department of Health

The Better Access Initiative provides Medicare rebates to eligible patients for mental health services.

But Professor Hurley said the majority of rebates were being drawn on by psychologists, instead of a broad range of other professionals like counsellors, psychotherapists, and mental health nurses.

"Our message is really that psychologists offer highly valuable services to particular cohorts, but mental health nurses are needed to reach those currently not receiving services or who are being untreated."

The 'untreated one-third'

Professor Hurley said the Productivity Report Inquiry into Mental Health revealed psychological services in Australia are predominantly delivered to people in metro areas with mild to moderate illnesses.

He said patients whose needs are more complex can find it difficult to access adequate care.

It is what experts call the ''untreated" one-third population — people living with severe or longer term mental health needs that can not be met by primary healthcare settings, but who simultaneously do not meet entry requirements into state funded inpatient mental health units.

Closeup of a man with a beard.
Professor John Hurley said the majority of rebates were being drawn on by psychologists instead of a broad range of professionals.(Supplied: Southern Cross University)

"And they get left behind."

He said better access to mental health nurses would improve treatment options for this cohort, but specific rebates were crucial.

"Not having access to MBS funding is like trying to do that with one arm tied behind your back," Professor Hurley said.

"COVID isn't just causing mental health problems. It's actually exacerbating pre-existing mental health problems."

Review due next year

In a statement, the federal Department of Health said the government is working with state and territory governments and key stakeholders to address the mental health needs of the Australian community during the pandemic.

The government is undertaking a comprehensive review of the Better Access Initiative with the findings due next year.

"The evaluation provides an opportunity to consider both the workforce needed to deliver services and the access to and rebates for Better Access sessions delivered by different professional groups," the statement said.

The government said its committed $478.2 million for a national network of mental health treatment centres which will provide further opportunities to employ mental health nurses as part of multidisciplinary care teams.

"The government also provided $19 million to primary health networks to commission mental health nurses to provide additional support to older Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic," the department said.

The statement said the investment is providing employment for mental health nurses and is addressing inequities in the availability of mental health services throughout Australia.

New funding stream

Professor Hurley said many European countries already offer subsidised psychotherapy sessions.

He said a new MBS funding stream in Australia would unlock the potential of 20,000 mental health nurses, increase options for patients, and support longer intervention times.

"There were serious issues before the pandemic and the level of funding was never at a point that matched the populations need," Professor Hurley said.

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2021-10-12 20:16:36Z
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