A major report released today on general practice care in Australia shows that the most frequent visits to GPs are for psychological care, demonstrating that the sector plays a critical role in helping patients with their mental health as well as physical health.
The report, General Practice: Health of the Nation, is the first of what will be an annual insight into the state of general practice in Australia, published by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
"With a shortage of psychologists and other mental health professionals in rural and remote areas, the role of rural doctors in providing mental healthcare is already absolutely critical, and is becoming more so," Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr Ewen McPhee, said.
"Feedback from many rural and remote doctors backs up the findings in today's RACGP report — namely, that there is a significant mental healthcare load in general practice.
"And this area of general practice care is growing.
"Many rural doctors already undertake additional upskilling in advanced mental healthcare.
"And under the National Rural Generalist Pathway that the Federal Government is progressing, medical graduates training as Rural Generalist doctors will be able to undertake advanced mental healthcare as a key element of their training, alongside other advanced skills.
"Earlier this year, we also welcomed an announcement by the Federal Government that, from November, it will increase access for rural and remote Australians to Medicare-rebated psychological care delivered by video consultations.
"Under the change, psychologists will be able to deliver up to 7 of the currently available 10 face-to-face sessions accessed through a General Practitioner. The rebates for these sessions have previously only been available if provided by a GP.
"This change will help to significantly improve access to tele-psychology services for many rural and remote Australians and the Government deserves full credit for implementing it."
RDAA has supported concerns raised by the RACGP, however, that despite the fact that over 85% of the Australian population visits their GP each year, the general practice sector receives only 5% of the total annual health budget.
"This should be sending significant warning bells to governments" Dr McPhee said.
"Given the reliance that Australians have on general practice for their primary care — and the ability of investment in general practice to generate significant budget savings by reducing hospital admissions — it is clear that additional investment in general practice needs to be made, sooner rather than later."