HEALTH HELP: David Littleproud MP welcomes the Better Access telehealth initiative which improves mental healthcare access for rural residents.
HEALTH HELP: David Littleproud MP welcomes the Better Access telehealth initiative which improves mental healthcare access for rural residents. Katherine Morris

Greater support for mental health in the bush

THE rate of suicide is 66 per cent higher in rural Australia compared to major cities, with farmers twice as likely to take their own lives than the general population.

Stoic rural residents often omit a doctor's appointment, particularly relating to mental health, from their to-do list.

Per capita rural Medicare expenditure on mental health care is 60 per cent of what it is in cities.

Member for Maranoa David Littleproud said distance was one barrier for those in the bush, which had now been removed.

Mr Littleproud said a new telehealth initiative was available for people living in rural and remote areas, improving access to psychological services.

"I often hear travel times and the fear of others knowing you're receiving help stops people from putting up their hand for assistance - so that's why we've introduced this new service to improve mental health access,” he said.

"This new measure means you can now claim the Medicare rebate for online videoconferencing mental health consultations with psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists.

"I think this is a major step forward to support better mental health in the bush.”

The Australian Government has announced funding of $9.1million over four years from 2017-18 to improve access to mental health therapy services for people in rural and remote locations.

Up to seven of the 10 sessions currently available through Medicare mental health plans will be available via telehealth under the new Better Access program expanded arrangements.

"One of the first four sessions will be face-to-face, to help build a personal connection with the treating mental health professional, but after that you can receive support in the comfort of your own home,” Mr Littleproud said.

"From November 1, those living in rural and regional communities will be able to claim a Medicare rebate for timely and convenient online videoconferencing consultations with psychologists and other allied mental health professionals.

"Not only does this new initiative significantly reduce the inconvenience, time and expense of having to travel to larger centres, but also mental health professionals will be able to connect sooner with their rural and remote patients in need of psychological services.”

The new program comes as the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce has proposed restricting the billing items for "urgent” after-hours care so they are no longer available to after-hours medical deputising services.

Rural Doctors Association of Queensland warned the changes must not disadvantage doctors who provide crucial after-hours care to rural communities.

Fast facts

  • The Federal Government will invest $9.1million over four years in this initiative to support better mental health support in rural and remote communities.
  • The Medicare psychological services via telehealth will be available for patients living in Modified Monash Model regions four to seven, which cover smaller country towns and remote and very remote locations.
  • To check if you're in an eligible rural or remote location, enter your address or general location on the Doctor Connect website at: internet/otd/publishing. nsf/Content/MMM_locator

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