Psychiatrists call on government to urgently address telehealth service gaps

13 January 2022
 
 
 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has written to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, calling for urgent changes to the new permanent telehealth arrangements.

The RANZCP President, Associate Professor Vinay Lakra has expressed concern that some of the changes implemented limit patients’ ability to receive equitable, accessible and affordable psychiatric care.

‘The reforms which make telehealth a more permanent feature of the health system considerably improve access to care, but there are also some very serious gaps which need to be addressed urgently’, said Associate Professor Lakra.

‘We have been hearing from psychiatrists, especially those who work with rural communities that the removal of item 288 is already having a devastating impact on access and affordability to psychiatric services for patients.

‘The abrupt removal of the rural telehealth loading, without extra support for those who experience geographic or socio-economic advantage, has in effect left many patients without access to either telehealth or face-to-face services.  

The RANZCP has consistently and strongly affirmed the need to develop alternative options to address the complexity of managing patient care, and to ensure that the Medicare system is accessible and affordable for all Australians.

‘There are a number of levers at hand, such as improving Medicare safety net thresholds, developing bulk-billing incentives for patients with concession cards, and increasing the bulk-billing rate for psychiatry services to 100% of the scheduled fee as is the case in general practice.   

‘We are also calling for the urgent re-inclusion of MBS telephone items for other consultations, which are needed for patients who require longer consultations for new appointments or ongoing appointments for those with complex needs especially in light of increasing COVID cases.

‘For some of these patients, videoconferencing is not possible due to various reasons and the telephone remains their only way to access the care they need when they need it.’

Given the reach of the current Omicron outbreak, its impact on the community and the resultant pressures on health service delivery, the RANZCP is also concerned about the removal of the COVID-19 telehealth items for inpatients.

‘The need for a more COVID-safe capacity to ensure continuity of care between patients and psychiatrists in private hospital settings has probably never been as crucial as it is now’, said Associate Professor Lakra.

The RANZCP will continue to work with the government to develop and implement the practical solutions to ensure that telehealth delivers equitable, affordable and accessible care for all patients across the country.

For more information and for all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.

ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call RANZCP Media on +61 437 315 911, or email media@ranzcp.org.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments and other groups on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit www.ranzcp.org.

In Australia: If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au or the Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 467 or www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au.

In New Zealand: If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline NZ on 0800 543 354 or www.lifeline.org.nz or the Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 828 865 or www.lifeline.org.nz/suicide-prevention.