Millions promised for hospital perinatal screenings

Matt Woodley

14/05/2019 4:15:14 PM

Reports of patients with perinatal depression being missed by traditional health checks prompted the $36 million Coalition election pledge, although some have asked why the rollout does not include primary care.

Pregnant woman on iPad
More than $14 million has been earmarked to rollout the iCOPE digital screening platform.

The funding, announced at the Liberal Party’s Sunday campaign launch, will go towards establishing a Maternity to Home and Wellbeing Program in partnership with the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE).

More than $14 million has been slated to fund the physical rollout of the iCOPE digital screening platform in public hospitals, while $20 million would help develop a national partnership agreement to encourage its uptake. iCOPE is a tablet-based tool that generates instant reports to guide health professionals, collects data, and provides patients with tailored information on screening outcomes.
Dr Wendy Burton, Chair of the RACGP Antenatal/Postnatal Care Specific Interests network, told newsGP she is supportive of any efforts to improve treatment, but queried why the rollout is limited to public hospitals.
‘We do need to be doing this better for the population as a whole,’ Dr Burton said.
‘It’s marvellous that they’re going to fund it for, but it does beg the question of why not extend that [into primary care]?’
COPE Executive Director Nicole Highet told newsGP the rollout would be specifically directed towards public hospitals in an attempt to provide care for vulnerable patients who have previously been missed.
‘Public hospitals, where a lot of the screening is being done, have got no support and they can’t claim any of the item numbers,’ Ms Highet said.
‘Also, some women don’t go to their GPs, they just go to the maternity hospital and it depends on what state you’re in as to whether you get screened.’
Ms Highet added that the current ‘pen and paper’ approach to screening is not always practical, particularly for patients who speak a language other than English. iCOPE, she said, helps resolve this issue as it is available in 13 languages.
‘The most vulnerable women – non-English speakers, refugees, women with high risk factors – are not getting screened. Not all of them are going to their GPs,’ Ms Highet said.
‘Anything that enables more women to be picked up to make it as efficient and inclusive as possible [is a good thing].’

While Dr Wendy Burton, Chair of the RACGP Antenatal/Postnatal Care Specific Interests network, is supportive of any efforts to improve treatment, she has queried why the rollout is limited to public hospitals.

However, Dr Burton believes GPs are well placed to provide mental health screenings and treatment, and that funding should be provided to extend the program into community screening efforts.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and BEACH survey data identifies that GPs do the majority of mental health provision,’ she said.
‘We’re often under-recognised for the work that we’re doing. Like most things, not everybody’s doing it well, but mental health is a part of every single day for a GP.
‘A GP well skilled in mental health care can actually manage both the pregnancy and some of the mental health issues, and that reduces fragmentation of care.’
Ms Highet said while there are no current plans to extend government funding outside of public hospitals, iCOPE is already in use in maternal and child health clinics, as well as parenting centres.
‘The application is available to anyone who wants to purchase it and it can be used across healthcare settings,’ she said.
‘The rebates that GPs earn from screenings will offset the cost of the technology. Additionally, for primary care professionals like GPs, iCOPE will help identify those in need, but GPs can also then get paid under Medicare to do a mental health care plan and provide mental health care treatments.’
Aside from the digital screening platform, the plan would also see funding dedicated towards the ‘Ready to COPE’ online newsletter, which distributes information specifically tailored around mental health, preventive strategies, and how to get help and have a conversation with health professionals.

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