Overwhelming response sees GP mental health scholarship numbers double

Matt Woodley

16/08/2021 5:47:09 PM

Another 100 rural Victorian GPs will have their mental health training subsidised as lockdown set to continue.

GP counselling a patient.
The scholarships provide full subsidisation for GPs in rural and regional Victoria to undergo the RACGP’s Focussed Psychological Strategies Skills Training.

Melbourne’s sixth COVID-19 lockdown has been extended for at least another two weeks, while the rest of the state will likely also have some restrictions in place for the foreseeable future.
The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a particular impact on mental health, but 100 GPs will soon be better equipped to assist patients thanks to $100,000 in training scholarships being awarded by the Rural Workforce Agency Victoria (RWAV).
The scholarships provide full subsidisation for GPs in rural and regional Victoria to undergo the RACGP’s Focussed Psychological Strategies Skills Training. GPs who complete the training can go on to provide Focussed Psychological Strategies (FPS) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)-derived counselling to patients.
RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Muñoz welcomed the additional support.
‘The past 12 months have been particularly challenging for Victorians,’ she said. ‘We are now in our sixth lockdown – lockdowns and restrictions are critical to stop the spread of COVID-19, but they also have a devastating mental health toll.
‘GPs have seen demand for mental health care skyrocket across the state … people are doing it tough all over, but it’s especially hard for those in regional and rural communities that don’t have access to local mental health services, like counselling or psychiatry.
‘That’s why this training is so valuable. It’s improving access to specialised mental health care for patients in communities where it’s needed most.’
The latest round of scholarships comes after the first 100, released in February, were quickly filled, including 37 GPs in Gippsland, 33 in Murray (north-eastern Victoria) and 28 in Western Victoria.
According to RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements, the scarcity of specialist services in rural and regional Australia means there is ‘huge demand’ for mental health services at local general practices.
‘People often don’t realise that GPs provide the vast majority of mental health care in Australia, but it makes sense – a GP is often the first port of call for patients, and it’s magnified in regional and rural communities,’ he said.
‘Rural patients have usually known their GP for a long time, they trust them and see them as a confidant.
‘After floods struck my hometown Townsville, my role suddenly changed from being a GP to a flood counsellor as well. I recognised my patients needed specialised mental health support, and so I did this training myself.
‘I encourage GPs in rural and regional Victoria to grab this opportunity and apply for a scholarship – you’ll be helping to increase access to high quality mental health care and making a big difference for your patients and whole community.’  
Prior to the pandemic, a 2018 Senate report detailed the gap in specialist mental health services in regional Australia, with stark differences in terms of per capita access to psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health nurses.
However, the FPS Skills Training program is designed to help GPs gain new skills while remaining in their practice and community, and will be delivered through a combination of online technology, peer group learning and locally available resources.
The training includes:

  • The latest best practice for antidepressant prescribing and non-pharmacology treatment options
  • CBT to treat common issues like depression and anxiety
  • GP support to begin applying CBT-derived FPS counselling to their patients
  • Mental health carer and consumer perspectives
RWAV CEO Trevor Carr said the agency is pleased to again have partnered with the college to help deliver the ‘innovative’ training.
‘The last 12 months have been particularly challenging for all Victorians,’ he said.
‘This additional funding will continue to provide training for GPs working in regional Victoria to support their communities.’
More information about the training is available on the RACGP’s website. Rural Victorian GPs who wish to apply for fully subsidised training can do so by submitting an expression of interest.
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