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Rural residents given better access to mental health services

Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Assistant Minister for Health David Gillespie have launched a new telehealth initiative to remove barriers to mental health treatments and improve access to psychological services for residents in rural and remote areas.

Under the new expanded arrangements of the Better Access program, up to seven of the 10 sessions currently available through Medicare health plans will be made available via telehealth – a videoconferencing system with psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists.

Hunt said one of the first four sessions would be face-to-face to ensure connections were built between residents and mental health professionals, but the initiative would make it easier for those in rural areas to seek help.

“From November 1, people in rural and regional Australia will be able to claim a Medicare rebate for timely and convenient online videoconferencing consultations with psychologists and other allied mental health professionals,” he said.

“The demand for psychological services in rural and regional Australia is growing – but a key barrier to accessing services is the scarcity of allied mental health professionals in some areas.

“This new initiative significantly reduces the inconvenience, time and expense of having to travel to larger regional centres or major cities for Better Access psychological services.”

The scheme is expected to cost $9.1 million over four years.

The telehealth service will be available for residents living in Modified Monash Model regions four to seven, which covers smaller country towns and remote and very remote locations.

“This will ensure that the services go to areas with the biggest access challenges, not to larger regional centres that are more likely to have resident psychologists and other allied mental health professionals,” Hunt said.

“We know that people living in rural and regional areas often have reduced access to health care; they have to travel greater distances to receive medical services, experience higher rates of ill health, and face higher death, illness and disease risk factors than people living in major cities.

“The Coalition Government is committed to bridging the city/country divide in providing access to health services around this nation.”

People interested in using telehealth psychological services are encouraged to speak to their GP.

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