Minister Called On To Review Psychiatry Budget Decision – 23 August 1996

The Australian Doctors’ Fund has called on the Minister for Health, Dr Michael Wooldridge, to meet urgently with psychiatrists involved in long-term intensive psychiatric treatment with needy patients following the decision handed down in the Federal Budget to limit full Medicare rebates to fifty visits per year.

Spokesman for the Fund, Mr Stephen Milgate, acknowledged the Minister’s difficulty in ensuring that the budget for psychiatric services be targeted to those in greatest need.

“There are a small number of psychiatrists who currently have a long-term treatment arrangements with people who have had severe emotional, sexual and physical abuse but for whom ongoing intensive psychiatric treatment is able to keep them out of hospital and functioning”.

“The patients receiving intensive long-term psychiatric treatment include children, teenagers and adults”.

“There is a danger that the budget message may be interpreted as a signal to these people that they are not welcome to see their psychiatrist when they feel they must”.

“Cost benefit analysis studies have concluded that in many cases people who are unable to gain easy access to psychiatric services end up costing the tax-payer more money by colliding with a variety of tax-payer funded health services, like public hospitals and social service institutions”.

Mr Milgate said “This is a very difficult area for those not involved in intensive psychiatric treatment, to understand. It is easy to jump to erroneous conclusions”.

“The Minister may be able to achieve the desired result by insisting on peer reviews of all long-term cases in excess of fifty visits per year”.

“The psychiatrists practising long-term intensive psychiatric treatment modalities are currently in over-demand. Patients need their services”.

“Although it is still possible for a patient to see a psychiatrist more than fifty times in a 12 month period at half the rebate the signal that this gives to people who have struggled against incredible odds to stay well could be that they are able to function effectively without seeing their doctor on a regular basis”.

“Such a signal in some cases, could have tragic consequences”.

“The Minister, having completed the exhaustive budget review task should now have more time to re-examine and fine-tune this particular aspect of the budget”.

The Australian Doctors’ Fund calls on the Minister to open his door to those who have concerns about this issue.