The decision to include only one GP on the Federal Government’s new advisory group has been labelled ‘unfortunate’.
Just one spot on a new committee tasked with reforming Australia’s mental health care system has been given to a GP, leaving advocates feeling frustrated and overlooked.
The Mental Health Reform Advisory Committee was established after the ‘Evaluation of the Better Access initiative’ report called for increased mental health access for those missing out.
The 15-person committee was established to consider reforms from a whole-of-system perspective, initially focusing on distributional equity of care, models of care, solutions for people with complex needs, and referral pathways.
Chaired by Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler, the committee includes representatives from the Australian Psychological Society, Beyond Blue, and Mental Health Australia.
However, just one GP will sit on the committee, AMA Vice President Dr Danielle McMullen, and it will include no representative from the RACGP.
Dr Cathy Andronis, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Psychological Medicine told newsGP it is disappointing that GPs are not better represented on the new committee.
‘It’s unfortunate that the RACGP did not get a seat at the table in what is potentially a major reform in primary mental health care because the majority of mental health care in Australia every day occurs in general practice,’ she said.
‘GPs are the most common assessors and treatment providers in mental health care.
‘People come to see us frequently with undifferentiated distress and we help them to identify both underlying causes and solutions and very often the discussion is about mental health concerns.’
Currently, 38% of all GP consultations include a mental health component, the most common issue for practitioners for the sixth year in a row according to the RACGP’s Health of the Nation report.
According to the Better Access report itself, the recommendations of which the committee is rolling out, ‘the collective view was that GPs had an important role to play in the program’.
‘However, there were different views on what the scope of that role should be, ranging from GPs providing a simple referral, to GPs continuing to complete mental health treatment plans, to GPs acting as de facto care coordinators,’ the report said.
Dr Andronis said as the usual first port of call within the mental health care system, GPs have invaluable knowledge and experience to contribute to any major reform process.
‘We are accessible, reliable, and trustworthy, having often gained that trust over months and years,’ she said.
‘GPs can help patients to feel safe as they navigate healthcare … [and] are excellent advocates for patients in distress and mental health is inseparable from physical health.’
The advisory committee met for the first time on 8 September and is now set to meet on several occasions between now and December.
But Dr Andronis said GPs should be involved in the discussion, with significant changes needed to reform the nation’s mental health care system.
‘We need a mental health system that is safe, readily accessible, and reliable with excellent team care in a primary setting, wherever possible,’ she said.
‘Continuity of care, based in evidence, is crucial to ensuring safety and trust when people are feeling insecure, vulnerable, and overwhelmed.
‘This is what it means to provide holistic healthcare and essentially what all of us need and deserve.’
The Department of Health and Aged Care was contacted for comment but did not respond prior to publication.
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