Coming on the back of the government’s announcement of a revision to the Better Access cuts, I commend Mental Health Minister Mark Butler for his willingness to discuss with us our concerns that seriously ill people would be left without the help they needed and for heeding the clear message coming from consumers, carers and health professionals.
He has listened, and responded in a way that will now allow for alternative programs to be further developed and implemented over the next year, mitigating the worst aspects of the changes to Better Access which took effect on 1 November.
What does this mean for the 13% of patients with severe or persistent mental health conditions who need more than the 10-session cap? They will now have access to a further six sessions of allied mental health treatment, in exceptional circumstances, during 2012. With our immediate concerns having now been addressed, the Greens’ disallowance motion (to overturn the original cuts) will be withdrawn.
The recent Senate inquiry into the Commonwealth Funding and Administration of Mental Health Services, highlighted the risk that the programs being developed by the government to take up the demand caused by the cuts – ATAPS and youth mental health services among others – would not be sufficiently geared up to meet the needs of ill consumers who had exhausted their sessions. The Greens’ report from the inquiry specifically recommended reinstating 6 sessions, in exceptional circumstances, while the alternative services were being further developed.
Indeed, after hearing the concerns of the community (1500 submissions to the inquiry and many emails and phone calls to my office), we were so alarmed by the prospect of seriously ill people falling through the gaps, that we met with Minister Butler several times seeking an interim arrangement that would address the worst effects of the Better Access changes. In November, the Greens gave notice that we would seek to disallow the government’s regulations to change Better Access. Fortunately, that will no longer be necessary.
We have always understood the rationale behind the government’s proposed changes to Better Access , which were first announced in the 2011 Budget, along with a sizeable increase in funding for mental health and a number of welcome key initiatives. The savings generated by the cuts are to be reinvested in additional mental health services for particularly vulnerable and hard to reach groups – through the Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) program, additional childhood and early intervention youth services and improving the coordination and accessibility of services for individuals with severe mental illness.
Our concern has always been that vulnerable people with severe mental health needs, who needed more than 10 sessions in a year, were going to be left high and dry until the other services were sufficiently geared up to fill the gap. Minister Butler’s willingness to revise the scheme has allayed those concerns for now. Meanwhile, we will keep an active brief on the development of the alternative programs through the course of the year.
Media Release: Revised Better Access a Very Good Thing: Greens