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COTA calls for Mental Health Care change

When a recent Fairfax Media investigation revealed wide-spread mental healthcare neglect of residents in aged care homes, and experts said the exemption of nursing homes to the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative was a central cause, industry experts called for change.

People living in an aged care home should be able to access the same mental health services as everyone else in the community (Source: Shutterstock)
People living in an aged care home should be able to access the same mental health services as everyone else in the community (Source: Shutterstock)

In an attempt to speed the reversal of the historic anomaly that prevents older Australians in aged care accessing the same mental health services as everyone else in the community, Council of the Ageing (COTA) Australia, has launched a petition calling on new health minister Greg Hunt to fix the issue.

“Over 175,000 older Australians living in residential aged care are ineligible to access Medicare-funded mental health treatment through the Better Access to Mental Health Care program,” says COTA Australia Chief Executive Ian Yates. 

“The situation is a throw back to a time when people were ‘put away' in nursing homes and not seen as part of the community.

"Thankfully, today most older people in residential aged care stay connected to their local communities, and have all the rights of citizenship," he continues. 

"Yet this policy still treats them as though they are institutionalised and without any control over their own lives."

The Liberal Government's Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative was introduced in 2006 and designed to streamline access to mental health services for people in the community. At that time, nursing homes were seen as institutions and residents were excluded from the program. This was confirmed under the Labor Government in 2011.

Mr Yates points out that a person receiving a high level Home Care Package in their own home can make use of the Better Access to Mental Health Care program, yet people living in an aged care home around the corner cannot.

"The new Minister for Health needs to make this an urgent and early priority. We are calling on him to take it to Cabinet where the Government must agree to reverse this historical anomaly so that nursing home residents have the same access to mental health services as everyone else,” Mr Yates adds.

"Older Australians and their families are calling for him to support this; and the mental health community are also championing the need for change.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) Executive Director, Professor Lyn Littlefield OAM, highlights Government funded residents of aged care facilities are excluded from Medicare funded psychological treatment because they are meant to be provided with access to a psychologist by their facility, but in reality this access is extremely limited, with less than one per cent of aged care residents receiving any kind of psychological treatment.

She says it is an issue of equity of access. “If residents were living in the community they could access psychological treatment under Medicare, but because they need residential care they are excluded from receiving best practice care.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health says the Federal Government is committed to ensuring that mental health issues get the care they need, when they need it, and that Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, has asked Minister Ken Wyatt, as Minister for Aged Care, to personally consider the matter.

She also highlights that approved providers of residential aged care are required to care for the health of their residents by referring care recipients to appropriate health specialists, including psychologists, in accordance with the care recipient’s needs and preferences.

The Department of Health and the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce will be closely reviewing the issues associated with accessibility to psychological therapy services for people in residential aged care.

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