Better access to psychology services in primary mental health care: an evaluation

Sanjyot Vagholkar, Lesley Hare, Iqbal Hasan, Nicholas Zwar, David Perkins
Australian Health Review: a Publication of the Australian Hospital Association 2006, 30 (2): 195-202

INTRODUCTION: The Access to Allied Psychological Services program was introduced as part of the Better Outcomes in Mental Health Care initiative in 2001-2002. Divisions of General Practice are funded to establish programs that allow GPs to refer patients for psychological treatments. The University of New South Wales evaluated programs run by the Southern Highlands and Illawarra Divisions of General Practice. This paper presents the findings of these evaluations.

METHOD: Both evaluations analysed process and patient outcomes. This was obtained from a combination of program data and qualitative satisfaction data.

RESULTS: The two program models differed in the mechanism of retention of the psychologists and the method of referral of patients. Anxiety and depression were the main reasons for referral, and clinical data showed there was improvement in patient outcomes. Patients, GPs and psychologists expressed satisfaction with the programs.

DISCUSSION: The Access to Allied Psychological Services programs in both Divisions have proven popular. Flexibility in the program structure allows Divisions to develop a model which suits their local circumstances. There is support for ongoing Commonwealth funding and the challenge is to find the most effective and financially sustainable model of delivery for psychological services in primary care.

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