19th April, 2022
Mental health nurses are the oldest regulated mental health profession in Australia next to
medicine. Credentialed mental health nurses (of which there are less than 2000 in Australia)
must complete a minimum of 1200 hours of post graduate education (a graduate diploma) on top
their undergraduate nursing preparation, and work for at least two years in supervised practice.
Most have decades of experience and many also have the highest level of education possible in
Mental Health Nurses have repeated requested eligibility to provide services under the Medicare
Benefit Schedule (MBS) programme “Better Access” to offer subsidised therapy to people
affected by fires, floods, the pandemic and other disasters. This is the lowest tier of services in
the stepped care model. MHNs have been informed for several years that ‘Better Access’ is
under review by a committee and have been refused access while a $2 million ‘comprehensive
evaluation of the programme is undertaken’. Yet extending ‘Better Access’ (the number of
sessions or the mode of delivery) has been the Federal Governments primary ‘mental health’
response to fire, pandemic, and floods. ‘Better Access’ is unaffordable to those most in need due
to some professionals who charge unaffordable ‘gap-fees’. Mental Health Nurses have no history
of such avarice. MHNs are ready, able, and often living in the communities most in need of their
specialised expertise. We call for credentialed mental health nurses to have immediate
eligibility to ‘Better Access’ and associated MBS item numbers, so they can serve their
communities now. Not when the committee reports back long after the incumbent Health
Reforms to improve access to the right dose or the right therapy by the most qualified person can
occur immediately without further expenditure on a lengthy review. We call for an immediate
revision of the tiered subsidy for the provision of the same services by different
professionals and an immediate mandate to ‘bulk-bill’ all mental health services under
‘Better Access’. This would not preclude people from making private arrangements if they can
afford to (and as they need to with MHNs or to receive psychotherapy in primary care currently).
We further call for a review of the conduct of Primary Health Care Networks (PHNs) in the
commissioning of what was formerly called ATAPs. This programme persisted to enable
access to brief psychotherapy for people unable to access ‘Better Access’ or had a higher level
of acuity. In the past MHNs provided a higher tier psychotherapy under this programme.
However, it is now monopolised in many regions by professionals who refuse to ‘bulk-bill’ under
“Better Access”. This is wrong and eligible providers who refuse to ‘bulk-bill’ under ‘Better
Access’ should not be providing ATAPs. There are numerous under-employed and highly
skilled psychotherapist including MHNs who can and ought to be providing ATAPs services.
Some PHNs have also taken the lead from the Federal Government and pay different rates for
different professionals providing the same service under ATAPs. This is morally wrong, against
the principle of equal pay for equal work and is money poorly spent with no demonstrable better
outcomes for anyone other than the enrichment of some health professionals.
MHNs quite reasonably want to be treated equitably with other health professionals and
empowered to provide skilled assistance to their communities. Access to the MBS by MHNs is
5770 supporters agree and have signed a change.org petition requesting that Credentialed
Mental Health Nurses are recognised as eligible to provide subsidised services under the MBS
and other funding streams in primary care to play their role in improving the mental health and
wellbeing of Australians.
Associate Professor Dr Richard Lakeman
DipCompNsg, BN, BA Hons (First Class), MMH (Psychotherapy), DocNSci,
Credentialled MHN and Fellow of the ACMHN
Credentialed Mental Health Nurses (MHNs) in Australia are highly skilled, and educated Mental Health Professionals. All have postgraduate qualifications and many are experts in the provision of psychotherapy including working with those with the most complex health issues (see: 1, 2, 3). Successive Governments have failed to recognise the expertise or potential of MHNs. What was formerly known as the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Programme (MHNIP) offered some of the most vulnerable in the community access to medium to long term psychotherapy (see: 4,5) despite this not being officially recognised (see: 6). The MHNIP was handed to the Primary Health Care Networks (PHNs) as part of their flexible funding pool and any reference to the therapeutic capability of MHNs removed from the guidance notes on 'Stepped Care' (see: 7). Some PHNs have prevented MHNs from continuing to provide care to those in need. MHNs have been locked out of providing care under the Medicare Benefit Scheme including COVID-19 funding for tele-health measures (see: 8, 9). MHNs should have full access to the MBS, and their therapeutic skills recognised by all funders of mental health services.