Mental health support must be a key factor in disaster recovery

Australia’s peak psychology body has welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement of a national recovery agency but is calling for mental health treatment to be recognised as a key aspect of disaster recovery.

Responding to today’s announcement on the creation of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency, Australian Association of Psychologists' (AAPi) Executive Director Tegan Carrison said its members wanted the current bushfire Medicare item numbers extended to include any large scale disaster, pandemic or traumatic event; and for self-referral to be made available.

“The Prime Minister said the impact of disasters in the long term can be devastating and even deadly. Our members, as psychologists, understand how important it is to seek out quality care as quickly and easily as possible, when recovering from a disaster, and in building resilience.

“Extending the current Medicare item numbers pertaining to bushfires to cover any major disaster will ensure the community’s mental health is adequately cared for during a time of crisis,” Ms Carrison said.

“Unfortunately natural disasters and traumatic events are a part of life. In recent years we have experienced bushfires, floods, cyclones and now the Covid-19 pandemic. We are calling on the government to be proactive in establishing trauma and disaster recovery item numbers so that people can receive the support they need, when they need it.

“There is excellent research that indicates that if early intervention and support is accessed, future negative impacts are reduced.”

Ms Carrison said the AAPi was calling for:

  • Medicare rebates made available for up to 10 individual mental health services in a calendar year.
  • No referral required. Patients are not required to have a diagnosed mental health condition, GP mental health treatment plan or referral prior to requesting psychological services. They may also self-identify as being affected by bushfire (or other kind of natural disaster) and request a service. Ms Carrison said this reduces barriers to access and reduces costs for everyone (clients do not need to pay to see GP, reduces administration time and reduces Medicare spend).
  • Patients wishing to access services via video conference are not required to have an existing relationship with the treating practitioner. In addition, no minimum distance requirement applies to these video conference services.
  • Mental health services received under the trauma and disaster recovery items do not count against a patient’s quota of services under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the MBS (Better Access) initiative.

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