Leading, regional NSW-based health lawyer, Catherine Henry, says a proposal to scrap mental health treatment plans in favour of online assessment tools is concerning for GPs and for people experiencing mental health issues and even mental illness.
The Productivity Commission’s Mental Health Inquiry, released November 2020, recommended the move.
While she welcomes the three-volume report’s central premise of a person-centred mental health system and a significant increase to mental health funding, Ms Henry agrees with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners that more detail is needed on how scrapping mental health plans will benefit patients. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) also said the proposal to replace mental health treatment plans with an online tool will “undermine the holistic approach needed to care for patients with mental health concerns”. It also said removing support for GPs at a time when the burden of mental illness is growing is unacceptable.
Ms Henry says whilst the concept of mental health care plans might benefit from some tweaking, almost all GPs are now trained in the system and the associated funding allows GPs to spend more time with patients on their mental health issues.
“From the work we do gaining justice and compensation for people who have experienced poor mental health care, or where a lack of consideration of mental health issues has contributed to poor treatment of physical health issues, we see mental health care plans as a positive tool for patients and advocate for their use,” Ms Henry says.
“The College has said that if mental health treatment plans are no longer funded, GPs may resort to a more costly overall option of using chronic disease management plans – because many mental health conditions last longer than six months,” she says.
“Let’s evaluate these treatment plans and see if they can be improved before we throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Mental health treatment plans, also called mental health care plans, were introduced in the 2006 Federal budget to improve access to mental health services by providing financial subsidies so that individuals can more easily access clinical psychologists and others who provide mental health services in the community. Read our information sheet here.
The Productivity Commission Report states that in any given year, at least five million Australians seek mental health help from their GP. Of these people, six in 10 are prescribed medication by the GP; three in 10 receive some counselling, education or advice. Only two in 10 receive a referral to a psychologist or a psychiatrist; about 400 000 people see private psychiatrists and 1.3 million people see psychologists.”
The report did note, however, that many GPs received “minimal training in mental health” and called for GP mental health training and professional development to be “re-oriented”.
Ms Henry says concerns raised in the report about over prescribing of antidepressants and other medication needed to be explored. She welcomes the report’s recognition of the strong relationship between physical health care and mental health care.
“In responding to the report, the National Mental Health Commission also made the important point that a specific strategy for addressing the mental health needs of older Australians, including those in residential aged care is needed.”
“This report is an important trigger for improving mental health care in Australia.”
Read more on ‘Why ditching mental health care plans is a very bad idea’ here.