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More incentives needed for rural practitioners

Published: 4 March 2015

Reports of Medicare Mental Health services being inequitably distributed is alarming, but not surprising, National President of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) Karen Healy said today.

“There is no incentive for practitioners to set up where there is so much need, in the lower socio-economic areas or in rural communities,” Professor Healy said.

“Directing a free enterprise service delivery program like the ‘Better Access’ Medicare Initiative to high need areas takes incentive and policy direction”.

In this instance, it is the very nature of universal access that may be working against equity of access. The AASW supports this innovative way of providing services, but the policy should be adjusted to provide incentives to providers to set up where the services are most needed.

The AASW congratulates Accredited Mental Health Social Workers and Registered Psychologists who have established practices in lower socio-economic areas or in rural areas providing quality mental health interventions to people in need. These clinical social workers, many with over 15 years experience in mental health care, provide valuable and highly skilled interventions through Medicare. ‘Focused Psychological Strategies’ are a well proven means of providing relief for mental health symptoms.

Katrina Sundstrom who practices in rural NSW, said that all her Medicare services are bulk billed with no gap. Many of her clients travel over 80 kms to see her and most GPs in her vicinity value her clinical skills. “I provide a much needed clinical service to a community with few alternatives using the valuable program of Better Access to ensure these services are provided with no out of pocket costs to the clients,” Ms Sundstrom said.

The recent review of Mental Health Services undertaken by the Australian Mental Health Commission is an opportunity for the Government to adjust this program to provide incentives to Social Workers and Psychologists to practice where their clinical skills are most needed.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers