Health professionals warn cutting back on assisted psychology sessions is causing rationing of client care

Federal health minister Mark Butler is facing a rebellion from mental health experts, who want his government to reinstate cheaper ‘life-saving’ psychology sessions.

Several groups representing psychologists, emergency service workers, and allied health professionals have written a letter to Mark Butler asking him to restore additional mental health support, or risk patients moving from psychology practices to already overburdened emergency departments.

In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Morrison government announced a $100 million commitment to double the number of Medicare-supported mental health sessions available to patients each year, from 10 to 20.

Late last year, the new Labor government announced that its so-called Better Access Initiative would return to 10 subsidized sessions, arguing that an independent report from the University of Melbourne found the scheme did not serve all Australians equally, and that those from less than Socio-economic backgrounds and regional areas were missing.

However, the report also stated that overall, “evidence from the evaluation suggests that the additional 10 sessions should continue to be made available, and should target those with more complex mental health needs.”

A message warning that cuts put patients at risk of harm

In a letter to the minister, the groups – including the Australian Psychological Society, the Rural Health Alliance, the Victorian Ambulance Federation and the Australian Federal Police Association – argue the decision puts “patients at risk of preventable harm or loss of life” and “jeopardizes the safety of service staff”. Emergency and healthcare professionals dealing with increased acceptance of mental health services.

“The Government’s decision to halve this program will reduce the amount and quality of mental health care available to tens of thousands of Australians and create a significant risk that patients who are abused or who have stopped treatment will move on from already psychopathic and disordered practices. GP clinics and emergency departments ‘, as stated in the letter.