25 November 2022

RACGP: GP mental health care needed more than ever

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed updated training standards for GP mental health care as Australia faces a mental health crisis.

The updated standards, Mental health training standards 2023–25: a guide for general practitioners, will be presented to GPs at the RACGP’s annual conference GP22, in a session on Saturday 26th November. The standards are developed by the General Practice Mental Health Standards Collaboration (GPMHSC).

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said the need for mental health care was greater than ever.

“Australia is in the grips of a mental health crisis,” she said.

“Mental health is the most common presentation in general practice. A 2021 report commissioned by the GPMHSC found 38% of GP consultations incorporate a mental health component*. And mental health, particularly youth mental health, is the health issue causing GPs the most concern for the future, according to our latest Health of the Nation survey**.

“There is also evidence that the prevalence of mental illness in the community is underestimated. Most GPs surveyed for the 2021 GPMHSC report, 84%, indicated their use of dedicated MBS item numbers for mental health consultations actually understates the amount of time they spend addressing mental health concerns.

“And the key reason for this is confusion around billing and belief that the MBS does not allow for mental health and physical health issues to be billed in a single consultation. This is leading to GPs providing ‘unseen’ mental health care, which isn’t captured by MBS statistics, and it needs to be addressed.”

The RACGP President called for more support for general practice patients to access mental health care.

“The updated standards for mental health training for GPs couldn’t come at a more important time,” she said.

“Many people don’t realise that GPs provide the majority of mental health services in Australia. More than 90% of GPs have completed Mental Health Skills Training, and approximately 1,700 GPs have gone on to do Focussed Psychological Strategies (FSP) training.

“We know patients really value mental health care delivered by their GP, particularly in rural and remote communities, which often don’t have nearby specialist mental health services, such as psychiatrists and psychologists.

“And there is an urgent need for reforms to ensure general practice patients can access mental health care when and where they need it.

“The RACGP is continuing to call for the federal Government to invest in longer general practice consultations to support patients with complex needs, including those with mental health concerns.

“Medicare patient rebates for long phone consultations, mental health and GP management plans should also be reinstated and made part of the permanent telehealth model. It makes no sense that these services were taken away from patients, and if they were reinstated it would make a real difference for the people who need it most, including those who are vulnerable, people with mobility issues, and those living in rural and remote communities.

“Finally, the Medicare rebate patients receive for a mental health item is less than a standard consultation of the same length. Why is mental health care deemed as lesser value? This is outrageous, particularly at a time when Australia is in the grips of a mental health crisis.

“We know that mental health can impact on a person’s physical health, particularly if things go unchecked for too long. So the government should be doing all it can to make sure people can access the care they need, when they need it.”

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