Cutting mental health services is always a terrible thing, but doing so during a cost of living crisis, in a country still recovering from a pandemic, is especially egregious.
It was shockingly announced this week that subsidised visits to mental health services will be slashed in half in Australia in the coming weeks.
As confirmed by Health Minister Mark Butler, prospective patients will soon only be able to claim Medicare rebates for just 10 visits to a psychologist or mental health service from 2023 onwards.
It’s a drastic reduction from the 20 subsidised visits that Aussies have been able to get recently. The move to 20 visits came back in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Butler insisted this week that this temporary decision had not benefited everyone equally.
“The evaluation I am publishing today considered the impact of those additional 10 sessions and found they drove a very big increase in the number of services in this sector generally,” he said.
“But it found that those additional 10 aggravated existing wait lists and aggravated barriers to access, particularly by (people in rural and low socio-economic areas).
“The evaluation found that all of the additional services went to existing patients and that the number of new patients who were able to get into the system and get access to psychology services actually declined by 7 per cent.”
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The decision has already been widely criticised. Rashida Dungarwalla, head psychologist and founder of Flow State Space, told The Brag that she and her colleagues are “appalled and heartbroken” by the news.
“A decision like this will have far and wide negative impacts on our clients, practitioners, the mental health industry and society at large,” she said.
“The advocacy behind the scenes will continue to push for a reversal on this decision and an introduction of better systems in place to support those most in need.”
The Coalition has also criticised the move, pointing out that Australians are still battling “the pandemic, natural disasters and the compounding pressures of the cost of living.”
“It is staggering that the Albanese Government believes now is the right time to rip away vital mental health support, Coalition spokeswoman Anne Ruston stated.
It should be noted that the Government has clarified that any patient with a current mental health treatment plan that includes the additional 10 sessions will still be able to access those extra sessions next year. The Government also plans to meet with experts in early 2023 to discuss potential new measures.