New trial should improve mental health care access: APHA

Monday, 20 May, 2024

New trial should improve mental health care access: APHA

A new trial to fund telehealth for psychiatric inpatient consultations should result in better access to psychiatric care for Australian patients, according to the Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA).

APHA CEO Michael Roff said many unwell Australians missed out on care they urgently needed because psychiatrists could not use telehealth for private hospital inpatients.

“APHA has been campaigning for this change for over 12 months and we are pleased the Health Minister has recognised the need to address the significant barriers to accessing care in the private psychiatric hospital sector, with up to 17,000 people unable to be admitted, not because of lack of beds, but lack of an admission pathway.

“The shortage of psychiatrists available to admit patients has resulted in private psychiatric hospital beds being left empty, while people needing urgent admission have had nowhere else to go.”

APHA said it had been advised by the Health Minister that the 2024–25 Budget introduces temporary Medicare Benefit Schedule items to allow the admission and some subsequent consultation of inpatients in private hospitals to be undertaken by psychiatrists via video.

The measure provides an item for a psychiatrist to admit a patient to a private hospital as well as a subsequent single video consultation each week of admission. This will enable inpatients to be admitted and better supported, while ensuring the patient is still seen face to face.

This will be implemented from Friday, 1 November 2024 for an initial period of two years.

Roff said offering a telehealth option for psychiatrists to provide inpatient care may make it more appealing for them to admit patients to the private hospital system and means they can still have consultations with their patients without always having to be onsite.

“The causes of the wider crisis in mental health care are complex, but this one measure will have a direct impact on the ability of psychiatrists working in the private sector to provide timely access to care.

“It was a successful innovation during COVID-19 and it has a place beyond the pandemic, particularly in a time of workforce shortage and the requirement for flexibility.

“It will complement the other measures in mental health care that have been announced in recent weeks.”

Roff said the announcement recognised the crucial role of private hospitals in delivering vital mental health care to Australians.

“Each year more than 40,000 Australians living with acute mental health conditions are cared for in private psychiatric hospitals. About 30,000 of them are treated as overnight patients.

Image credit: Productions

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