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Action on Better Access is necessary to protect patients

Media Release
Rachel Siewert 1 Nov 2011

The Australian Greens have recommended that the Federal Government postpones changes to the Better Access program to ensure the ongoing delivery of services to patients.

Senator Rachel Siewert, Chair of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee Inquiry into Commonwealth Funding and Administration of Mental Health Services has made a series of recommendations in her additional comments to the Committee's majority report.

"Current Government policy to rationalise the number of sessions under the Better Access initiative is likely to, in the immediate term exacerbate existing service gaps for people with severe and persistent mental illness. Unfortunately the current system is not ready for the Government’s proposed changes” Senator Siewert said today.

“The Government should revise its scheduling for the 2011-12 Federal budget changes to ensure continuity of care.

"The Government needs to demonstrate that other programs are adequately equipped to provide services to people with a severe or persistent mental illness.

"Additionally, it is important that any tightening of eligibility for Better Access be delayed until the youth mental health initiatives funded in the 2011/12 Federal Budget are fully expanded and operational.

"Better Access began as an initiative aimed at high-prevalence disorders but the initiative has been increasingly used by people experiencing severe symptoms.  While I understand the Government’s arguments for changing the current programs, the changes at this stage could have unintended consequences.

"I have also recommended that the Government consider an interim program through the MBS that would allow access to six additional sessions for consumers who meet tightened criteria based on the severity of their condition as a potential means of transition to the new system”, said Senator Siewert.

Senator Penny Wright, Greens Spokesperson on Mental Health, supported Senator Siewert’s recommendations.  “It was clear from evidence before the committee that many people will fall through gaps if the changes to Better Access go ahead before the ATAPS system is suitably geared up.”

“If mental health programs and initiatives are to be effective and responsive, it is crucial that the voices of consumers and carers are included and heard at every stage.”

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