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Ensuring ‘Better Access’ for those who really need it

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As the national mental health organisation representing Australians living with complex mental health, SANE welcomes the plan to address mental health treatment inequity but cautions against reducing access to already limited services.

According to SANE CEO Rachel Green, the recent findings of the Better Access evaluation review reflect the reality for Australians living with significant or complex mental ill health. ‘There’s no doubt that the Better Access program has been a game changer for many Australians, improving access to mental health care for those living with psychological distress. However, this recent review clearly shows that the Better Access program is not always serving the needs of those who really need it. Rapidly rising gap fees and excessive waiting lists have made accessing mental health care challenging for those living with severe or persistent mental ill health and trauma. It’s clearly not sustainable, nor fair and equitable, for someone needing long term mental health care to languish on a waiting list for months then pay a $90 gap payment each time.

We hear this story every day at SANE. Over the past two years we’ve seen a significant spike in the number of people connecting with SANE phone and digital support services because they can’t access help anywhere else.

Furthermore, over 40 per cent of those using our services report having either no access to qualified mental health professionals at all or a GP as their sole treating health professional.

This highlights the bigger issue at play here - the under-resourcing of the mental health sector more broadly.

Mental health is currently 14 per cent of the burden of disease in Australia yet receives only 7 per cent of health funding.

Yes, there is significant inequity around how services are currently allocated and accessed, but rearranging the deckchairs is not an adequate solution. Whilst the Better Access program has served us well, we must acknowledge that an optimal mental health care system must include more than a series of isolated, clinical interventions. For us to meaningfully improve life for those with significant mental ill health, we must address the psychosocial issues that reinforce and amplify mental ill health – financial security, isolation, social discrimination, and access to education and employment opportunities. We must embed and integrate mental health care with primary care more broadly and expand services to include non-clinical providers such as peer workers and counsellors. Most importantly, we need to see adequate resourcing from all levels of Government if we are to stem the rising tide of mental ill health in Australia. We agree with Ministers Butler and McBride that it is time to take a critical look at how resources are currently distributed in the mental health system and we look forward to representing the 800,000 Australians living with complex mental health needs throughout this process.

Last updated: 15 December 2022

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