Submission: Better Access to Mental Health Evaluation

AHPA and various members actively participated in the Better Access to Mental Health Evaluation’s Stakeholder Engagement Group (SEG), which met six times over 2021-22. The document below was sent in preparation for a stakeholder forum on improving Better Access hosted by Ministers Butler and McBride to be held on 30 January 2023.

AHPA’s comments centre on the insufficient scope of the Evaluation and the ensuing Australian Government decision to discontinue the additional 10 Better Access sessions per year. Our comments can be summarised as follows:

The lack of examination of mental health service providers other than current Better Access providers meant the evaluation did not consider other ways to increase access to effective mental health care. This lack was aggravated by the very limited examination of current Better Access providers other than psychologists (i.e., nurses, social workers and occupational therapists). In addition, consumer satisfaction of mental health providers included allied health providers but did not assess satisfaction with GPs or psychiatrists.

The evaluations imply that social workers and occupational therapists may be underutilised due to GPs’ roles as gatekeepers for referral, but this issue is not further interrogated. AHPA noted that if this was addressed, wait times for allied health professionals might be shorter. However, the Report does not take this theme up in its analysis and recommendations, despite AHPA’s suggestions.

Other shortcomings identified include that mental health services in aged care were not sufficiently investigated and that the evaluation seems confused in its conceptualisation of the role and place of Better Access within the broader Australian mental health system.

Given the extensive resources and presumed considerable funding invested in the Evaluation, these shortcomings represented missed opportunities.