Psychologists call for better use of funding
PSYCHOLOGISTS are arguing for a redistribution of funds from the federal Government’s Better Access scheme for mental health, saying they — not GPs as currently — should take the main role in planning treatment.
Lyn Littlefield, chief executive of the Australian Psychological Society, says the current Better Access scheme is ‘‘ unbalanced’’ because nearly half the funding goes to GPs for drawing up care plans for patients, rather than on the treatment itself.
Professor Littlefield told Weekend Health that GPs ‘‘ aren’t highly trained in mental health’’ and if the Government wanted cuts in the scheme, ‘‘ large cost savings’’ could be made by scrapping the existing $150 rebate for GPs to draw up care plans.
‘‘ The majority of the time the psychologists have to do their own assessment (of the patient’s needs) because the GP hasn’t done it properly,’’ she said. ‘‘ Quite often we are doubling up. I think it should be collaborative — patients should go to the GP first of all, so they can do their own assessment.
‘‘ Then when the GP has found they have some sort of mental health disorder, the psychologist should do the full assessment and work up a plan and consult with the GP that they are happy with that plan. GPs get $150 for doing the plan — you would have large cost savings there.’’
The cost of the Better Access scheme to the end of 2007 was $279 million, Littlefield said. Of that, $121 million went to GPs, most of it to compile mental health plans. Another $21 million went to psychiatrists, whereas $131 million went to allied health professionals, mainly psychologists.
Kate Carnell, CEO of the Australian General Practice Network, rejected Littlefield’s claims, saying there was ‘‘ no evidence’’ that GPs were not doing plans properly.
‘‘ I think it’s really important to see this whole approach to mental health holistically — it isn’t just about psychologists, or for that matter GPs,’’ Carnell said.
‘‘ It should be about the patient. You’ve got to look at what’s really happening — 90 per cent of GPs are bulk-billing their mental health patients, and only 30 per cent of psychologists are bulk-billing.
‘‘ Maybe the thing we should be talking about is making (psychology) services available outside urban areas and in a few more regional and rural areas — that’s the main problem we have in this (mental health) area at the moment.’’
Littlefield also defended psychologists after a breakdown of Better Access scheme figures showed that fewer than one-third of psychologists’ services were bulk-billed. According to the figures, released by the federal health minister Nicola Roxon last week, 30.4 per cent of the nearly 1 million consultations provided by registered psychologists, and 25.9