The Senate Committee inquiring into the funding and administration of federal mental health services will finally publish its twice delayed report tomorrow just days shy of the cuts to the Better Access scheme. Despite calls by the Australian Medical Association, the Alliance for Better Access, and others for a moratorium on these cuts so that the Committee’s findings & recommendations can be analysed & discussed to the Minister, Mark Butler MP, it would seem certain that the government is set to ram these cuts through the parliament and ignore the one thousand submissions that are by far mostly critical of these cuts.
The video is of psychologist Chris Ludlow making a statement on ABC-TV’s ‘Q & A’ program about the cuts to the Better Access scheme & the response by the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon MP. Rebuttals of many of the statements made by the Minister in relation to the funding of other mental health services, the evidence-base that she says exists in those services, and further evidence on the true benefits & costs to the taxpayer can be found at BetterAccess.net
The recent federal government’s announcement that funding for mental health has been ‘increased’ hides cutbacks they have made in other areas. While they have increased funding for schizophrenia and psychosis they have reduced funding for depression/anxiety. In particular, they have made substantial cuts to Medicare funding for psychologists, which allowed patients to access 12 sessions of counselling (18 sessions under exceptional circumstances). Depression and anxiety (OCD, PTSD, Panic Disorder, Social Phobia etc) are serious mental disorder that are disabling and heighten the risk of suicide. The treatment of choice for these conditions is cognitive behaviour therapy (sometimes combined with medication) delivered by a psychologist or a mental health worker. The recent budget announcement will restrict the community’s access to these effective treatments. The government will defend its cutbacks because they will claim that they are funding counselling through an alternative initiative called ATAPS. This new funding is welcomed. ATAPS, however, only services a small number of socially disadvantaged groups. The majority of Australians will still continue seeing psychologists via the Medicare system. With the new proposal, all patients referred through Medicare will have access to fewer treatment sessions (i.e., most treatment episodes will be limited to 6 sessions; 10 sessions under exceptional circumstances). To put this into perspective, it might take 4 — 5 weekly sessions to stabilize a suicidal patient, keeping them out of an expensive psychiatric hospital ward. After a severely depressed person is stabilized, 10 — 20 sessions of therapy may be required to treat their depression. It looks like we are going back to the bad old days when only biomedical treatments for mental illness were funded, even in situations where scientific evidence is lacking. Australia – you have had the wool pulled over your eyes in relation to mental health funding.
Please sign our petitions:
1. SIGN our on-line petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/better-access-to-psychologists.html
2. VOTE at our ‘GetUp!’ campaign idea (don’t just leave a comment): http://suggest.getup.org.au/forums/60819-campaign-ideas/suggestions/1833821-better-access-to-psychologists
3. Contact the Minister, Mark Butler MP.