The role of psychologists as critical to improving the mental health of thousands of Australians struggling through the pandemic has been recognised in the 2020 Federal Budget with the announcement that Medicare-funded psychology sessions will be doubled, according to peak professional body the Australian Psychological Society (APS).
The Federal Budget outlines plans for the currently available 10 Medicare-funded psychology sessions under the Better Access Scheme to be doubled to 20 sessions, for an initial two (2) year period as Australia emerges from the pandemic.
APS President Ms Ros Knight said the announcement that sessions would be doubled for all Australians, regardless of their geographical location, was momentous and long-awaited.
“The APS has long advocated for recognition of the value to the community of access to psychological services.
“The increase to psychology sessions under the Medicare Benefits Schedule was a major component of our landmark White Paper: The Future of Psychology in Australia, so this is very welcome news indeed.
“People in our community who are vulnerable to mental health disorders have been falling between the cracks because they lack sufficient access to the affordable psychological treatment and care options they need.
“This year in particular with bushfires, the pandemic and now a recession, people have been pushed to the brink of their coping.
“Psychologists across the country have been the frontline mental health workers supporting the many members of our community whose mental health has been severely impacted by the pandemic.
“Doubling of the sessions is a significant win for all Australians, in all parts of the country, and for the psychologists who work tirelessly to support them.
“This is potentially the best mental health related news we could have hoped for from a Federal Budget delivered in the midst of a mental health crisis,” she said.
Ms Knight said the APS was pleased that the Federal Budget reaffirmed a commitment to the future of telehealth.
“We welcome the further funding in the Federal Budget that will support the continuation of telehealth as a further measure to ensure access and equity for all of the community.
“In 2020 telehealth has quickly become a popular and effective modality for psychologists to consult with their clients, with our research showing that more than 94% of APS members have taken up using telehealth during the pandemic.
“The temporary COVID-19 Medicare telehealth items have demonstrated that telehealth works, and that psychologists and their clients like it for its safety, effectiveness and because it facilitates more equitable access for more vulnerable people.
“We will continue to call on the Government to secure the future of telehealth by making it permanently available for the delivery of psychological services.
APS Chief Executive Officer Dr Zena Burgess welcomed the focus on system reform, and said the APS hoped to see mental health services streamlined and simplified to improve access.
“We are entering a period of significant reform, from which our profession and the rest of the sector hopes to emerge with a forward-looking, robust mental health system fit for the future.
“Ultimately, we want access to psychological services to be as easy as access to a GP.
“We are optimistic about working with the government and the Department of Health to co-design improvements in psychological services for the benefit of all communities in Australia.
“The APS shares the Minister’s aspiration to address service gaps, ensure the highest and best use of psychology and psychologists within our community, and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the mental health care system.
“We are grateful to Minister Hunt for the co-design approach he is sharing with the APS and its members, and we very much look forward to continuing working – united – towards our shared goals,” she said.
Dr Burgess said the APS would further analyse the 2020 Federal Budget in the coming days.
“This Budget appears to be very positive for mental health, psychology and the Australian community.
“This is an historic level of spending on mental health measures, and it strongly indicates that the Morrison Government remains committed to responding to the mental health crisis in this country.
“The APS commends Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt for their real and immediate commitment to making the mental health recovery of the country as important as the economic recovery,” she said.