The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is welcoming new funding for rural Victorian GPs to undergo training to boost access to mental health care.
It comes after the Victorian Government announced a snap 5-day lockdown on Friday as a ‘circuit breaker’ against rising cases of a more infectious ‘UK’ strain of the COVID-19 virus.
The Rural Workforce Agency Victoria (RWAV) will provide support for up to 5% of the RACGP’s members in rural Victoria to become Medicare registered Focused Psychological Service providers – approximately 100 GPs.
The $102,900 funding will provide full subsidisation for GPs in rural and regional Victoria to undergo the RACGP’s Focussed Psychological Strategies Skills Training. This innovative online program allows rural GPs to upskill while remaining in their practice and community. Those who complete the training can go on to provide Focussed Psychological Strategies (FPS) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)-derived counselling to patients.
More information about the training is on the RACGP’s website. As places are limited, rural Victorian GPs who wish to apply for fully subsidised training can do so by submitting an expression of interest.
RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Munoz welcomed the support.
“Now more than ever we need to increase access to mental health care for patients in rural and regional Victoria,” said Dr Munoz.
“Victorians have faced unprecedented twin crises in last summer’s devastating bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic – our state experienced the longest lockdown in Australia last year, and now we find ourselves in lockdown again.
“This snap lockdown is absolutely necessary, we need to get on top of the cases of COVID-19 that we are seeing for the protection of our community, particularly those who are more vulnerable.
“But, coming on top of everything else, the mental health toll on patients is a huge concern.
“Even before the events of last year, we knew mental health was among the largest health issues in Australia. For the past few years, it has rated as one of the top issues that GPs deal with in the RACGP’s annual Health of The Nation survey.”
Medicare data showed a significant rise in subsidised mental health services in Victoria last year. When the state was under the toughest COVID-19 restrictions between September and October 2020, subsidised mental health items increased 31%, compared to the same period last year.
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements, who underwent the training after disaster struck his community in Townsville, said that it made a real difference.
“After floods devastated my community, my role quickly changed to a flood counsellor, as well as a GP. I did the training because I recognised my patients needed specialised mental health support,” Dr Clements said.
“Rural patients often turn to their GP for mental health support due to their connection to the local community, they tend to know and trust them as a confidant. The high demand for GP mental health services is further fuelled by the scarcity of specialist services in rural and regional Australia.
“I strongly encourage GPs in Victoria to take up this great training opportunity – increasing access to high quality specialised mental health support can do so much, not only for the wellbeing of each individual patient, but the entire community.”
RWAV CEO Trevor Carr welcomed the partnership with RACGP and said the program would provide practical support to GPs working in country Victoria.
“We are delighted to partner with RACGP to support the delivery of innovative training to GPs working in country Victoria. More than ever, Victorians in regional areas are turning to their local GPs for a range of services, and RWAV is pleased to fund the Focused Psychological Service training for an additional 100 GPs.”
A 2018 Senate report detailed the gap in mental health services in rural and remote Australia – in regional areas, the per capita number of psychiatrists, mental health nurses and psychologists in 2015 were, respectively, 36 per cent, 78 per cent and 57 per cent of those in major cities. The situation was even worse in remote areas.
The RACGP’s online training is delivered through a combination of online technology, peer group learning and locally available resources, so GPs can gain new skills while remaining in their practice and local community.
The training includes:
· the latest best practice for antidepressant prescribing and non-pharmacology treatment options
· CBT to treat common issues like depression and anxiety
· GP support to begin applying CBT derived FPS counselling to their patients
· mental health carer and consumer perspectives
The next intake opens on 8 March 2021. Register online here.
The partnership between RWAV and the RACGP is made possible with funding RWAV receives from the Commonwealth Department of Health, through the Health Workforce Scholarship Program.