The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has called on the Federal Government to extend COVID-19 telehealth, under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), until at least the end of the year.
President of the RANZCP, Associate Professor John Allan, welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent announcement on the post-pandemic future of telehealth but raised significant concerns that COVID-19 telehealth has been extended only to the end of June 2021.
‘It is our recommendation that the current COVID-19 telehealth items, as well as all other existing items for telehealth in psychiatry, remain in place until at least the end of 2021’, said Associate Professor Allan.
‘The benefits of the flexibility of telehealth during the pandemic has supported both new and existing patients, many of whom have increased need for psychiatric services due to increased stresses caused by the pandemic and/or reduced access to usual social supports.
‘The access and support that expanded telehealth is allowing the mental health sector to provide is invaluable; it’s concerning to see the Government unwilling to continue funding it until we are in the clear because they feel it is costing too much.
‘There should be no such thing as too expensive when it comes to the mental health and wellbeing of the country.’
The RANZCP urges the Government to recognise that increasing patient access via telehealth is essential due to ongoing demand whilst the pandemic resolves and the vaccination program is implemented.
‘Throughout the pandemic we have commended the government’s focus on mental health and urge that consideration does need to be continued to support better outcomes for those with mental illness’, said Associate Professor Allan.
‘With the recent announcement to further extend the availability of the COVID-19 specialist telehealth items, in their current form, for a further three months, psychiatrists are telling me that three months is simply not enough.
‘Continuing COVID-19 telehealth items will enable patients to maintain contact using telehealth with their provider and avoid potentially harmful disruptions in their care.
‘This would allow sufficient time to monitor trends and claiming practices as new data becomes available prior to making any decisions on the benefits vs costs of telehealth long-term.
‘Enabling patient access via telehealth is essential during the time of the pandemic and recent events have shown us that we are not out the other side of this yet, with outbreaks continuing and the vaccination program in its early days.
‘The allowance for the COVID-19 telehealth items must continue until we are out of the woods and we aren’t there yet.’
The RANZCP is committed to working with the Government to ensure any proposed changes reflect improved quality of care and it is our strong recommendation that the current COVID-19 telehealth items continue until we are ahead of the pandemic.
For all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.
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