I am writing to you regarding the mental health impacts of COVID-19 and the serious limitations of our current mental health system in meeting the increasing level of community need. Clinical psychologists have repeatedly requested that the Federal government provide a temporary increase in the number of available Medicare Psychology sessions during the pandemic, while we await broader systemic changes in mental health service provision. Fortunately, additional sessions have now been made available to Victorian consumers who are in hard lock down. Such assistance, however, has not been provided to mental health consumers across Australia. Instead, we have been told to refer these consumers to alternative services that are either not accessible and/or are not clinically appropriate (e.g. private psychiatrists, state mental health).
We have been asked by the Federal Government to wait patiently for the release of the Final Report of the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health and the Final Report of the MBS Taskforce. Neither report has been released. Frustratingly, it now seems that any recommendations from the Productivity Commission Inquiry will not be actioned until the release of the 2021 Federal Budget. Additionally, we have not been given a clear time frame for the release of the MBS Taskforce recommendations regarding Medicare-funded mental health care items.
There has never been a more important time for the Government to prioritise the mental health of all Australians. The impact of job losses, economic hardship, lock downs, daily anxiety, reduced social connectedness and long periods of uncertainty have only added to the challenges that our mental health system was experiencing before the pandemic. State and federal government mental health funding initiatives in response to the coronavirus pandemic have been welcome. However, in many cases these initiatives have served to increase mental health awareness and create more access points, but have not provided the expert clinical care needed by those experiencing the most significant mental health impacts – in particular, those with pre-existing mental health disorders, individuals with complex trauma histories, and those with multiple biopsychosocial risk factors. The treatment clinical psychologists provide is cost effective, supports patients to remain active members of the community and the economy, and is sorely needed by many vulnerable Australians at this time, whose needs will not be met by state mental health teams or help lines.
We are calling upon the Federal Government to immediately release the Final Report of the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health so that its specific recommendations can be implemented as a priority.
We are also requesting the release of the Final Report of the MBS Taskforce relating to the MBS Mental Health Care Items.
Additionally, clinical psychologists and the clients we work with are also sitting with uncertainty about the viability of working in safe and sustainable ways, in the face of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. The Telehealth Items which have allowed us all to adapt, very rapidly, to ensure we can continue providing safe and effective care while complying with Health directives and minimising risk of infection to ourselves or our clients, are due to expire in a matter of weeks, with no certainty from Government that they will be continued.
We are therefore calling upon the Federal Government to ensure ongoing access to the MBS Telehealth Items, while addressing the issues the profession has already raised regarding risk of corporatisation of telehealth services.