AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, said today the Government must make changes to its mental health package if it is to be truly effective in meeting the needs of people with mental illness.
Details of the package were announced today by the Prime Minister, and the AMA welcomes the Government's financial commitment to mental health care.
While the AMA is generally pleased with the package's outcomes for patient access to psychiatrists and psychologists in team-based care, there are still major concerns about how the Government sees the role of GPs in mental health care.
Dr Haikerwal said the Government fails to understand that GPs are the main source of expert care for patients with mental illness and that they are the first place turned to for immediate, urgent care, as well as long-term management.
Instead of supporting GPs in this role the package is putting hurdles between patients and GP care they need, risking its viability.
"The Government is undervaluing the role of GPs in mental health, and has failed to recognise the unique skills and experience that GPs have in this area," Dr Haikerwal said.
"We have spent considerable time convincing the Government of the package's failings but they are yet to respond with changes.
"Significant numbers of people are cared for with mental illness in the community by GPs because of the absence of in-patient and support services.
"We have warned that a package that offers so much will be less effective without proper support for the role of GPs.
"The Government wants to impose complex requirements on GPs, including compulsory extra training.
"They are also seeking to introduce Medicare rebates for patients who see GPs for mental health care that are lower than those applicable to services from other health practitioners.
"Higher Medicare patient rebates would be available for patients who saw a psychologist with no medical training and limited experience, for instance, which highlights the inequity of the package.
"This demeans highly trained, qualified and experienced GPs.
"GPs provide ongoing holistic care for patients with a mental illness and this care should be valued accordingly," Dr Haikerwal said.
The AMA re-affirmed a unanimous view from other GP groups consulted and will continue to lobby the Government for changes to the package to ensure maximum benefit for patients.