The Federal Government has recently announced the outcomes of a competitive tender process to select the organisations to operate the 31 new Primary Health Networks (PHNs) that will replace the existing 61 Medicare Locals from 1 July 2015 (as announced in the 2014-15 Federal Budget). Most applications to operate PHNs were put forward as collaborative partnerships, or consortium arrangements, between several organisations. On 11 April the Minister for Health announced the lead organisation for the successful PHN bids, with further information about consortium partners yet to be released.
The Government has indicated there will be transitional period from April 2015, and comparable funding agreements put in place during the first year of PHN operation for services currently funded by Medicare Locals. However, it is unclear what these arrangements will mean in practice. As a result, many service providers (including those employed directly and under programs such as ATAPS and Partners in Recovery) have no information on whether their existing contracts with Medicare Locals will be continued beyond 30 June 2015, or in what form. Much of this detail will be subject to contract negotiations that will take place between PHNs and Medicare Locals over the coming weeks. The APS is continuing to seek further details and will keep members informed as these become available.
The APS was involved in the largest ever mental health delegation to Federal Parliament this week, meeting with more than 40 Members of Parliament and Senators, including Ministers and Shadow Ministers. The Mental Health Advocacy Day was organised by Mental Health Australia (MHA) of which the APS is a prominent member organisation and Lyn Littlefield is its Deputy Chair.
The delegation met with more than 40 parliamentarians across the political spectrum, advocating for strong policy commitment to mental health. In particular, the delegation called for the release of the National Mental Health Commission’s Review of Mental Health Services, followed by consultation with the mental health sector about improvements to the mental health system. The delegation also advocated for a cross party commitment to a 10-year reform plan for mental health, as well as funding certainty for Australians using community-based services.
The day-long series of meetings was well-received by politicians, who were very interested in the issues raised around mental health.
A number of members have rung with enquiries about the requirements under Medicare for managing clients on GP Mental Health Treatment Plans across the new calendar year. Some members are also receiving queries from referring GPs about whether the GP needs to prepare a new Mental Health Treatment Plan or provide a new referral when an existing client is going to continue to receive psychological services in 2015.
The requirements for Treatment Plans and referrals have not changed this year but there is often confusion amongst GPs and psychologists about how to interpret the requirements of the relevant Medicare item numbers.
Once an initial GP Mental Health Treatment Plan is in place, a new Plan should not be prepared unless clinically required and generally not within 12 months of a previous Plan. The GP can provide ongoing management through the GP Mental Health Treatment Consultation and Standard Consultation items, as required, and reviews of progress through the GP Mental Health Treatment Plan Review item. At these GP appointments, the GP can provide the client with a new referral for psychological services if the GP considers that the client requires additional psychological services (up to the calendar year entitlement of 10 sessions).
In summary, clients who were being managed by their GP under a Treatment Plan in 2014 who need to access further referred services during 2015 do not need to have a new Treatment Plan prepared unless required by the client’s clinical condition, needs or circumstances. There is also no need for a new referral unless the client has already received the number of sessions that was stipulated on the 2014 referral. If a client enters 2015 having used up all previously referred services, then the GP can provide a new referral if they consider that the client requires additional psychological services (up to the calendar year entitlement of 10 sessions).
It is important to note, that once the Treatment Plan is in place, the GP can use the referral process to access continued psychological services for the client (up to the calendar year maximum)– similar to a referral to any specialist.