Governments offer additional bushfire supports

Amanda Lyons

10/01/2020 2:38:26 PM

NSW, SA, ACT and Victorian governments have this week all declared initiatives designed to help people during and after the disasters.

Support for residents affected by bushfires.
Residents in SA, NSW, ACT and Victoria are being offered additional healthcare supports by their state governments.

Grief, trauma, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all well-documented psychological impacts individuals and communities can experience during and after bushfire.
‘These tragic bushfires are likely to have a long-lasting effect on some people’s mental health and wellbeing, and early intervention can reduce the impact,’ SA Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said.
‘It’s important that we determine what supports are currently in place and identify what gaps need to be filled.’
To this purpose, the SA Government this week convened a ‘Roundtable discussion for mental health and wellbeing,’ led by Wellbeing SA and bring together key government agencies and non-governmental organisations.
The roundtable is designed to produce a whole-of-community natural disaster resilience response for people directly affected by bushfire, as well as those in the wider community who are experiencing distress as a result of the disaster.
‘Even South Australians not exposed to frontline impacts may benefit from support to strengthen and maintain their mental health wellbeing,’ Wellbeing SA Chief Executive Lyn Dean said.
‘The work of this roundtable group will support the actions already being undertaken by the state’s recovery coordination teams who are providing practical immediate assistance.’
Meanwhile, the NSW Government has, in addition to its pledge of $1 billion to help rebuild bushfire-impacted communities throughout the state, announced a deployment of mental health clinicians to affected areas.
‘We are delivering mental health support where and when it is needed most and we will be there for as long as it takes to help people recover from the devastating bushfires,’ NSW Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor said. 
‘We want to ensure people in bushfire-affected communities can access appropriate and timely services to help with their mental health and wellbeing.’
The mental health clinicians will be stationed at evacuation centres as part of existing welfare services.
NSW Health Chief Psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright said it is important for people who had experienced bushfire trauma to receive an immediate response, including counselling.
‘Even people not exposed to the frontline impacts of the bushfires may also experience symptoms of distress, but in most cases this will resolve over days or weeks, and with the support of their families and communities,’ he said.
However, he advised that those who experienced long-term effects from the bushfires such as anxiety and trouble sleeping should consult their GP.
The NSW Government is also providing practical assistance along the state’s South Coast with two mobile service centre buses to help residents who have lost important documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, in the fires, by replacing them without charge.
The NSW, Australia Capital Territory and Victorian Governments are also offering similarly practical assistance in the area of prescriptions with emergency provisions made this week.
Under these public health emergency provisions, pharmacists can supply people affected by the bushfires with standard Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS) quantities and smallest standard pack sizes of non-PBS prescription-only Schedule 4 medicines without a prescription, if obtaining a prescription is impractical and the pharmacist deems there to be an immediate therapeutic need. This can enable people to obtain up to a month’s supply of chronic medicines, where the previous limit was a three days’ supply as an emergency.

In addition to these state and territory measures, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced a temporary expansion of the PBS Continued Dispensing initiative to cover nearly all PBS medicines.

In an emergency situation, pharmacists will now be able to offer standard quantities of ongoing PBS medicines for the standard co-payment without a prescription. Previously, the Continued Dispensing initiative applied only to PBS-listed oral contraceptives and cholesterol-lowering medicines, leaving patients unable to access subsidies when accessing medicines under emergency supply provisions.

The changes to the initiative will apply from Monday 13 January until 31 March.

'Doctors and pharmacists across areas affected by fires are to be commended for their efforts to ensure patients can obtain the medicines they need in emergency circumstances,' Minister Hunt said.

'These changes will provide more support and flexibility for patients who need access to their medicine.'

The Victorian Government has also created a permanent agency, Bushfire Recovery Victoria, to work with impacted communities in their recovery and rebuild.
‘Recovery is not as simple as rebuilding infrastructure – it’s something that can take us not just months, but years,’ Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
‘The work of Bushfire Recovery Victoria will focus on the most pressing priorities, but just as importantly, make sure we’re there for the long haul.’
These state initiatives follow the Federal Government’s announcement earlier this week of the creation of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to support state and territory governments in community rebuilding, to be funded with an initial $2 billion.
‘If further funds are required, further funds will be provided,’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.
‘We’re focused on the financial cost, we’re focused on the human costs, and ensuring we can do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to support that recovery effort.’

This story has been updated to include new information about changes to Continued Dispensing arrangements.

Bushfires 'Disaster medicine Mental health prescribing

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