New mental health care standards for GPs

Matt Woodley

28/11/2022 5:31:48 PM

The updated standards were presented at GP22, with RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins saying the need for mental health care is greater than ever.

Morton Rawlin
The standards were launched by GPMHSC Chair Associate Professor Morton Rawlin at GP22. (Image: Adam Thomas)

Updated training standards for general practice mental health care have been released, with the new, shorter edition aimed at providing clearer information about education requirements.
The new standards have also been adjusted to align more closely with best practice for the provision of mental health care, which is the most common presentation in general practice.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins has welcomed the new standards, which were developed by the General Practice Mental Health Standards Collaboration (GPMHSC), referencing the growing need for this type of care in the community.
‘Australia is in the grips of a mental health crisis,’ she said.
‘A 2021 report commissioned by the GPMHSC found 38% of general practice consultations incorporate a mental health component.
‘And mental health, particularly youth mental health, is the health issue causing GPs the most concern for the future, according to our latest Health of the Nation survey.’
Dr Higgins also said there is evidence that the prevalence of mental illness in the community is underestimated.
‘Most GPs surveyed for the 2021 GPMHSC report, 84%, indicated their use of dedicated MBS item numbers for mental health consultations actually understates the amount of time they spend addressing mental health concerns,’ she said.
‘And the key reason for this is confusion around billing and belief that the MBS does not allow for mental health and physical health issues to be billed in a single consultation. This is leading to GPs providing “unseen” mental health care, which isn’t captured by MBS statistics, and it needs to be addressed.’
The RACGP President said these ‘unseen’ consultations are contributing to a lack of understanding around the role GPs play in mental health care, and is leading to underinvestment in this space.
‘The updated standards for mental health training for GPs couldn’t come at a more important time,’ she said.
‘We know patients really value mental health care delivered by their GP, particularly in rural and remote communities, which often don’t have nearby specialist mental health services, such as psychiatrists and psychologists.
‘And there is an urgent need for reforms to ensure general practice patients can access mental health care when and where they need it.
‘The RACGP is continuing to call for the Federal Government to invest in longer general practice consultations to support patients with complex needs, including those with mental health concerns.’
In addition to more support for longer consultations, the RACGP also says mental health and GP management plans should be reinstated and made part of the permanent telehealth model.
‘It makes no sense that these services were taken away from patients, and if they were reinstated it would make a real difference for the people who need it most, including those who are vulnerable, people with mobility issues, and those living in rural and remote communities,’ Dr Higgins said.
‘Finally, the Medicare rebate patients receive for a mental health item is less than a standard consultation of the same length. Why is mental health care deemed as lesser value? This is outrageous, particularly at a time when Australia is in the grips of a mental health crisis.
‘We know that mental health can impact on a person’s physical health, particularly if things go unchecked for too long.
‘The Government should be doing all it can to make sure people can access the care they need, when they need it.’
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