Reducing the number of Medicare-subsidised psychologist appointments from 20 to 10 a year on 1 January 2023 will negatively impact people with complex comorbidities such as cancer, say two leading cancer organisations.
Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) and the Psycho-oncology Co-operative Research Group (PoCoG) have written to Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler to express concerns that the mental health needs of those with cancer are not currently being met, and there is a need for a program to be developed that can address the growing needs of this group.
In the current mental health workforce crisis, BCNA and PoCoG want to work with government to bring consumers to the table and align on a long-term solution that sees increased access to subsidised psychological support and a system that is fit-for-purpose for those with cancer.
BCNA Director Policy, Advocacy & Support Services Vicki Durston said BCNA and PoCoG are calling on the Federal Government to also take the advice from an independent evaluation of the Better Access Scheme.
The University of Melbourne’s Evaluation of the Better Access initiative final report, released 12 December, recommends 'the additional 10 sessions continue to be made available and should be targeted towards those with complex mental health needs'. Those with the more severe categories of mental health conditions tended to require more sessions.
We feel that the mental health needs of those with complex comorbidities such as cancer are not being considered in this policy change by government.
We know those with cancer have increased need for mental health support, with around 40 per cent experiencing clinically significant mental health issues. Many people with cancer require much more than just 10 psychologist appointments per year.
A 2017 BCNA survey found four out of five respondents reported not all their emotional wellbeing needs were being met.
The financial burden of privately funding additional appointments is a barrier and will significantly impact on equity of access to psychological support for all Australians with cancer
The impact of COVID-19 is also a factor contributing to greater mental health need, and the effects of the pandemic are enduring for those with complex comorbidities such as cancer.
Professor Brian Kelly, Chair of PoCoG, says that there are effective psychological interventions to assist cancer patients with significant depression and anxiety associated with their cancer, but that access to such care is currently limited. The Better Access Scheme provides important source of access to this care.
'The mental health needs of those with a cancer diagnosis are specific and often acute, including support to deal with fear of recurrence or progression, body image issues, pain management, and fear of death and dying,' Prof. Kelly says.