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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

MBS boost in mental health support for bushfire victims

Health Industry Hub | January 15, 2020 |

Several Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item numbers will be expanded as part of a $76 million Government investment in mental health support for firefighters, emergency personnel, individuals and communities impacted by the ongoing bushfire disaster.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the money and new item numbers will address the ‘critical issue of dealing with trauma and mental health occasioning from these bushfire disasters around the country’.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the $76 million has been earmarked to provide assistance to ‘every person who has been touched by the fires’.

‘It’s immediate support … for people who have been in the fire-affected zones, whether that’s farmers, whether that’s young people, old people, whether that is small business people, people who are living in residence in the area and faced the fires, or visitors or emergency service personnel and volunteers,’ he said.

MBS boost in mental health support for bushfire victims Dr Harry Nespolon is supportive of the additional funding and the help it will provide patients and other health and emergency professionals across the nation.

More information on eligibility requirements for items 2121, 2150 and 2196 can be found here.

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Immediate distress and trauma support

$10.5 million will be provided to make up to 10 free counselling sessions immediately available for individuals, including emergency services personnel, who have been affected by the bushfires. 

A further $3.2 million investment will help deploy bushfire mental health response coordinators to fire affected areas.

Enhanced services through Medicare and Telehealth

To deliver longer-term support to those affected, $29.6 million will be provided for additional Medicare-supported psychological treatment sessions and expanded access to mental health care via telehealth.

Anyone who has been impacted by bushfires will be eligible to receive Medicare rebates for up to 10 psychological therapy sessions provided by GPs, psychologists, and other eligible mental health professionals.

These 10 sessions will be in addition to the 10 psychological therapy sessions currently available under Medicare.

To make it as simple and fast as possible to access the new items, individuals do not need to have a GP referral or mental health treatment plan, but can seek appointments directly with any eligible mental health professional.

In addition, the Better Access via Telehealth Initiative will be expanded, which will allow people in rural and remote areas affected by bushfires to receive Medicare rebated counselling and psychological support through video telehealth services. This will also allow eligible GPs to deliver mental health and wellbeing support via telehealth.

The new Bushfire Recovery and telehealth Medicare items will apply to all Australians, including children, young people, adults, seniors, and frontline emergency personnel who were residents of, working in, or visiting a bushfire affected region.

You may also like Medicines Australia provides support for bushfire-affected communities

Child and youth mental health 

We recognise that young Australians may be particularly vulnerable and to assist with managing any increased demand for headspace services, headspace sites significantly impacted by fire will also each be provided with up to an additional $300,000 to ensure that young people can get support when they need it.

Given the particularly devastating impact of the bushfires on the New South Wales South Coast, the Government will also expand the planned Bateman’s Bay headspace site and expedite funding of $4.4 million over five years to ensure the centre is up and running by the end of the year.

Support for Emergency Service Personnel

Emergency services workers and their families often face the most confronting situations. To ensure they have extensive and ongoing support, we will provide $16 million for specialist organisations to provide them with trauma care services.

This funding will ensure that workers and their families are receiving more intensive support that might be necessary to prevent and treat the effects of trauma, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both now and after the immediate fire threat has passed. 

We will also provide $1 million for training for front line emergency service personnel in trauma-informed care and psychological first aid. This includes training for doctors, pharmacists, and health professionals who are often the first people that communities turn to for support. 

An additional $1 million will also be provided for training of staff in organisations that manage front line emergency personnel, in order to help them identify and assist emergency personnel who may be at risk. 

Community recovery and coordination

The Government recognises that communities will need support to recover and rebuild, and that they often know what is best to support their wellbeing. To assist them, we will be providing $6.9 million for community wellbeing grants and further funding for locally tailored mental health services through Primary Health Networks (PHNs).

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