New survey shows cuts to mental health sessions hitting hard in 2013

A new survey by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) shows that cuts to Medicare-rebated psychology treatment sessions, applicable from January this year, are having a severe impact on the ability of people with mental health problems to access urgently required and appropriate treatment.

In January 2013 the Government reduced the number of Medicare-rebatable psychological sessions available under the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme to 10 per year per person, down from a possible 18 when the initiative was first introduced in 2006.

The survey of over 400 clients who, at the end of the allowable 10 sessions of treatment, were judged by their psychologist to need further treatment, shows 78 per cent of these people had moderate to severe mental health problems, with the most prevalent conditions being depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress.

Nearly a quarter of these people (22%) had to have their required treatment postponed until next year due to the lack of alternative treatment arrangements.  For over half of the clients, psychologists provided the required additional treatment either free of charge (17%) or at a reduced rate (32%).

APS Executive Director Professor Lyn Littlefield said, “Our survey confirms what other services are already reporting – that the funding cuts are resulting in people missing out on treatment and they are not able to be catered for by other services like the ATAPS program run through the Medicare Locals.”

She added: “These are people with moderate to severe presentations and it is estimated that there will be 33,000 people per year like this who will require more than the permitted 10 sessions for effective treatment.

“We warned the Government that alternative services just wouldn’t have the capacity to cope with the needs of these people. Obviously, psychologists are carrying the burden for the Government’s cuts but this is not sustainable as a solution.”

The APS has presented a proposal to the Government that would enable thousands of these Australians with serious yet common mental health disorders to continue with the appropriate length of treatment, with just a modest funding increase. 

“The social and financial impact of people missing out on needed treatment is enormous.  Inadequate or delayed treatment is likely to see a worsening of their conditions and add to strain on relationships and family, as well as diminish people’s ability to work.  This so-called saving actually has a substantial human cost,” Professor Littlefield said.

- Ends-

Notes to editors: ATAPS is the Access to Allied Psychological Services program whereby funds for mental health services are provided to Medicare Locals to contract required psychological services for their clients. However, as has been reported, the funding for this program is capped and already many Medicare Locals have run out of funding to provide psychological services this year.

More detail on the survey is available here:

For more information, or to arrange an interview, call the APS media phone on 0435 896 444, or email Find us on Twitter:  @APS_Media.

The APS is the largest professional organisation for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 21,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to people’s lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.