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Psychiatrists need more changes to address COVID-19 challenges

30 March 2020
 
 
 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) welcomes the Australian Government’s changes announced yesterday to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth services for more Australians.

‘The expansion of telehealth services to cover more existing patients for mental health treatment is a much needed step in the government’s ongoing response to COVID-19,’ said the RANZCP President Associate Professor John Allan.

‘We recognise this will allow more people to be able to receive mental health care from their psychiatrist via telehealth or telephone.

‘We also applaud the boost to mental health services, domestic and sexual violence support and other essential services such as those to frontline health workers, people in aged care and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – these are all essential.

‘If we are to maximise telehealth as a key weapon in the fight against this pandemic however, it is imperative that the government move quickly to open access to telehealth for all Australians who may require mental health care during these challenging times.

‘In particular, we are calling on the government to further expand non-GP specialist telehealth for all new patients, as well as existing patients,’ said Associate Professor John Allan.

‘Psychiatrists also need to be able to continue to practice group therapy as well as seeing family groups and working with parents, children and infants. Patients admitted to a private hospital also require regular review which could be safely and effectively undertaken by telehealth.

‘Further changes are urgently required that will allow health professionals to apply their usual arrangements to telehealth consultations, while concessional and vulnerable patients continue to receive services at no cost.

‘The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will unfortunately be immense and psychiatrists have got vastly more experience and success with telehealth than any other specialty.

‘Psychiatrists have a crucial role to play in assisting the community at large during these times and we look forward to working closely with the government to ensure we move quickly and comprehensively to the next stage (Stage 5) of changes for the benefit of all Australians. 

‘We should also not forget the needs of people with severe mental illness, many of whom are already slipping through the cracks, for whom difficulties accessing services can exacerbate pre-existing conditions.

‘The effects of loss of income, lockdown, sudden unemployment and homelessness present new challenges for everybody but particularly people with severe mental illness as they are more likely to have existing physical illnesses and social disadvantage.

Access to appropriate and sometimes critical services at the right time and in the right way for all those in crisis and with severe conditions can be a life and death situation for some patients.

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 Sarah Carr on +61 437 315 911, or email media@ranzcp.org.