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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 13194

Leichhardt Electorate: Mental Health

(Question No. 625)


Mr Entsch asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 22 September 2011:

In respect of my correspondence to her dated 11 August 2011 on behalf of two constituents in the electorate of Leichhardt,

(a) What services are available in far north Queensland to treat depression, anxiety and eating disorders, and

(b) Does a Australian Government travel allowance exist for families with family members suffering from depression, anxiety and eating disorders who are not able to be treated in their home town.


Mr Butler: The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(a) Commonwealth funded treatment services which may be to benefit of people in far north Queensland with depression or anxiety are available under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (Better Access) initiative, which provides access for people, with an assessed mental disorder, to Medicare subsidised mental health services provided by General Practitioners (GPs), psychiatrists, psychologists and appropriately trained social workers and occupational therapists. There are a range of private providers registered with Medicare Australia and eligible to provide these services in far north Queensland.

The Better Access initiative is complemented by the Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) initiative. ATAPS services are targeted to those individuals requiring primary mental health care who are not likely to be able to have their needs met through Medicare based mental health services. Extra funding of $206 million in the 2011 Budget will see a significant expansion of ATAPS over the next five years.

To be eligible for the Better Access or ATAPS initiatives, an individual consumer must be diagnosed as having a mental disorder by a GP and have a Mental Health Treatment Plan prepared. In general these initiatives are suitable for individuals with mental disorders of mild to moderate severity.

Under the ATAPS initiative Divisions of General Practice and Medicare Locals are funded to purchase allied health services necessary to deliver ATAPS services. The Far North Queensland Division of General Practice is currently funded to provide services in far north Queensland.

The Australian Government also provides a range of telephone and web-based counselling services for all Australians, regardless of where they reside in Australia.

Through the Telephone Counselling, Self Help and Web-Based Support Programmes measure, the Australian Government has invested $60.9 million over five years to support services for people with low to moderate level mental health disorders and those experiencing psycho-social crisis, or long-standing mental health problems. Activities under this measure, to date, have included crisis counselling via telephone helplines, online counselling, online self-help and peer support, and self-directed online treatment modules. A suite of evidence-based telephone counselling and online mental health programs currently supplements or substitutes for more conventional face-to-face services. Further information on these initiatives is available at www.mentalhealth.gov.au.

The Australian Government is aware of the ongoing concerns within the community about accessing mental health care, and is also aware of concerns that Australia has lacked a consistent and comprehensive approach to eating disorders.

In response to this the Australian Government has committed $3 million for the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC). The collaboration is being led by the Butterfly Foundation and will aim to develop a comprehensive, coordinated national approach to eating disorders.

People with mild to moderate level eating disorders may benefit from the Better Access and ATAPS initiative outlined above.

With respect to services available for moderate to severe eating disorders in far north Queensland this is a matter which falls within the responsibility of the Queensland Minister for Mental Health.

(b) In regards to financial assistance, each state and territory government administers a travel and accommodation assistance scheme (PATS) for people requiring specialised health care not available within a specified distance from their place of residence. While the PATS have some basic features in common, travel assistance arrangements vary across the states and territories with different administration arrangements, eligibility criteria, subsidy levels, requirements for patient contributions and types of medical care covered. The Commonwealth Government has no role in funding or administering these schemes, but is working with states and territories to examine options to improve PATS and to work towards a more nationally consistent scheme.