The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is cautiously welcoming a Government report with proposals to improve mental healthcare after years of underfunding.
The Productivity Commission’s Mental Health Inquiry Report calls for a $2.6 billion overhaul of the mental healthcare system.
Acting RACGP President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda cautiously welcomed the report.
“The RACGP welcomes the report’s aspirations to improve mental healthcare systems and improve funding, for what is a historically underfunded but critical area for the health of our nation.
“The RACGP is Australia’s largest representative body of GPs, with more than 41,000 members, over 9,500 of whom live and work in rural and remote areas, and we are committed to improving the mental health of Australians.
“Many people don’t realise that the majority of mental healthcare is delivered in general practice – 90% of GPs have completed level one mental health skills training.
“I am pleased that the report notes the vast majority of patients receiving mental healthcare in general practice are very happy with the care they receive.
“Increased funding for mental healthcare is critical. This is a health crisis in Australia, the report estimates the total cost of poor mental health and suicide at as much as $70 billion a year.
“The answer to this problem is right in front of us – the majority of mental health care is delivered in general practice: investment in primary care is a key part of the solution.
“Funding reforms must address the underfunding of mental health care in general practice, which is still poorly remunerated compared to physical care from a GP.”
“While we welcome efforts to increase funding and provide patients and GPs access to a greater range of services and treatments, it must not undermine the critical central role of GPs – rather, we should build on the achievements made over recent decades in general practice mental healthcare.
“The report validates the unique role GPs play in mental healthcare, recognising the need for a whole-of-person approach to care, addressing mental and physical health in a holistic way, which is what a GP does.”
The RACGP Acting President also warned that the report’s proposal to scrap GP mental health treatment plans and replace them with an online assessment tool is lacking clarity.
“Any change to GP mental health treatment plans needs to be usable for both GPs and patients, and appropriately reflect the level of work involved.
“It not designed and implemented properly, the proposal risks undermining the vital role of GPs.
“While we of course welcome efforts to improve mental healthcare systems, it is absolutely essential this is done in close consultation with GP representative bodies, such as the RACGP, as well as health consumers.
“Mental health treatment plans provide a structured way for GPs to help their patients with mental health concerns, including early intervention, accurately assessing and managing their condition. The process also helps guide GPs to engage their patient in conversation, so they can discuss what they are experiencing and their concerns.
“Like many mental healthcare systems and services, they’ve suffered from lack of funding. Any review of the mental health treatment plans process must address the chronic underfunding.”
The RACGP has called on Federal Government to help general practice successfully manage the long-term physical and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and summer bushfires. This includes investing in new Medicare subsidies for longer consultations so GPs can spend more time with their patients to discuss what they’re experiencing and help that is available.