Improving access to and outcomes from mental health care in rural Australia

Belinda Morley, Jane Pirkis, Lucio Naccarella, Fay Kohn, Grant Blashki, Philip Burgess
Australian Journal of Rural Health 2007, 15 (5): 304-12

OBJECTIVE: Rural Australians face particular difficulties in accessing mental health care. This paper explores whether 51 rural Access to Allied Psychological Services projects, funded under the Better Outcomes in Mental Health Care program, are improving such access, and, if so, whether this is translating to positive consumer outcomes.

DESIGN AND METHOD: The paper draws on three data sources (a survey of models of service delivery, a minimum dataset and three case studies) to examine the operation and achievements of these projects, and makes comparisons with their 57 urban equivalents as relevant.

RESULTS: Proportionally, uptake of the projects in rural areas has been higher than in urban areas: more GPs and allied health professionals are involved, and more consumers have received care. There is also evidence that the models of service delivery used in these projects have specifically been designed to resolve issues particular to rural areas, such as difficulties recruiting and retaining providers. The projects are being delivered at no or low cost to consumers, and are achieving positive outcomes as assessed by standardised measures.

CONCLUSION: The findings suggest that the rural projects have the potential to improve access to mental health care for rural residents with depression and anxiety, by enabling GPs to refer them to allied health professionals. The findings are discussed with reference to recent reforms to mental health care delivery in Australia.

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