A new petition has been started to make 20 sessions of counselling through the Better Access program permanent after Health Minister Mark Butler announced it would be reduced to 10 sessions from next year.
The Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the MBS (Better Access) initiative was introduced in 2006. Since then, the number of sessions has bounced around
The number of sessions available through the GP facilitated access program has fluctuated between 10 and 20. Various restrictions and controls, such as requiring your GP to authorise additional sessions, have been deployed as both Labor and Coalition governments wrestled with the cost of the scheme. The number of sessions available was increased from 10 to 20 as part of a Covid-19 response package.
Health Minister Mark Butler recently announced a number of changes to the scheme, including reducing the number of individual sessions from 20 to 10. This followed a review of the program which argued the additional sessions should remain available for those who need them.
A recent report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that the number of people accessing mental health services is down from the peak in 2020, but still up on the same period in 2019.
Dr Catriona Davis-McCabe, President of the Australian Psychological Society, said in a statement that they are disappointed by the decision.
“This program safely gave many people telehealth or in-person psychological care for the first time in their lives, yet many patients will now have to ration or stop treatment altogether.
“Just as people shouldn’t be asked to ration vital medicines like insulin, they shouldn’t have to ration mental health care,” she said.
The petition on the Australian Parliament House e-petition system calls for a permanent change to 20 psychology sessions under the publicly funded program, providing certainty for people with mental health concerns. Petitions on the Australian Parliament House system are time limited, and this petition will close to signatures on the 5th of January.
Another petition posted last week on change.org calling for the same thing has been signed by over 45,000 people.