Prime Minister John Howard and the Federal Government has put together a coherent and long-term strategy that seeks to help those suffering from mental illness, as well as ease the burden on their carers. He has announced this week a $1.8 billion boost for mental health, including new Medicare rebates for consultations with psychologists wining plenty of acclaim.
He stated that there could be a big difference, with a concerted contribution from the Commonwealth and the states to reform and sustain mental health services. Stating that the changes are designed to help the mentally ill no matter where they live in the city or in the bushes. The aim is to help them to perform the basic tasks of daily living, the stuff most people take for granted such as cooking, shopping or simply going out. More money he said would be available for telephone and internet counselling, such as the Kids Help Line and Lifeline Australia, and more money for more specialised staff. He further stated that there would be a teamwork approach to treatment, with psychologists and mental health nurses able to work alongside GPs and psychiatrists. From November, the Medicare benefits schedule will be restructured to enable GPs and psychiatrists to refer patients to psychologists, and they will be eligible for a Medicare rebate he said.
Stating that the government had in the past tended to overlook the burdens of parents, particularly elderly ones, who look after children with severe mental illness or disability, such as Down syndrome or autism. He said that this package would seek to redress that by providing 650 new respite care places, including overnight respite, full 24-hour respite and day respite services, with priority for elderly carers.
He concluded that they are determined to maintain the programs that will help people with mental illness and make life a little easier for those who care for them. If the states and territories follow through, then all the communities will be much better.
The head of Newcastle University's School of Psychology felt that the mental health package, announced this week, should allow more psychologists to go into private practice. The package will fund about 900 personal helpers to assist people with a mental illness, and allow for Medicare rebates to be extended to cover psychologists. Associate Professor Andrew Heathcote said that previously only psychiatrists have had access to the Medicare rebate, so there should now be an increase in practising mental health professionals. Stating that the problem till now was that the profession of psychology, has had limited access to Medicare money, He thinks that once there is access to money more students will want to train in to there and of course more psychologists might think of going into private practice.