The complementarity of two major Australian primary mental health care initiatives

Bridget Bassilios, Jane Pirkis, Justine Fletcher, Philip Burgess, Lyle Gurrin, Kylie King, Fay Kohn, Grant Blashki
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2010, 44 (11): 997-1004

OBJECTIVE: Two pivotal Australian Government primary mental health reforms are the Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) projects, introduced in July 2001 and implemented by Divisions of General Practice, and the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and GPs through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (Better Access) programme, introduced in November 2006. This research explores the reciprocal impact of the uptake of psychological treatment delivered by these two initiatives and the impact of location (rurality and socioeconomic profile) on the uptake of both programmes since the inception of the Better Access programme. ATAPS session delivery, before and after the introduction of the Better Access program, is also examined.

METHOD: General Practice Division-level data sources included a minimum dataset containing uptake data of ATAPS services, Medicare Benefits Schedule uptake data supplied by the Medicare Benefits Branch of the Department of Health and Ageing, a Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Area classification, and Indices for Relative Socio Economic Disadvantage (IRSD). Regression analyses were conducted to examine the reciprocal impact of the two programmes and the impact of rurality and socioeconomic status up to December 2008.

RESULTS: A dramatic uptake of Better Access sessions, particularly in urban areas, coincided with a temporary reduction in sessions provided under ATAPS, with an overall small positive relationship detected between the two programmes. A greater proportion of ATAPS sessions (45%) have been delivered in rural areas compared with Better Access (18%). The combination of socioeconomic profile, rurality, and Better Access sessions accounted for a small but significant percentage of variance (7%) in the number of ATAPS sessions delivered, with a non-significant independent contribution of Better Access sessions to the prediction of ATAPS sessions. Weak but significant relationships between ATAPS sessions and each of socioeconomic profile (r = 0.22) and rurality (r = -0.24), respectively, were identified. In comparison, socioeconomic profile, rurality, and ATAPS sessions accounted for a much larger and significant percentage of variance (46%) in number of Better Access sessions delivered, with a non-significant independent contribution of ATAPS sessions to the prediction of Better Access sessions. Moderate significant relationships between Better Access sessions and each of socioeconomic profile (r = 0.46) and rurality (r = -0.66), respectively, were identified. The introduction of Better Access appears to have halted the steady increase in the number of ATAPS sessions previously observed. This finding should be interpreted alongside the fact that ATAPS funding is capped.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings are policy relevant. ATAPS projects have been successfully providing equity of geographic and socioeconomic access for consumers most in need of subsidized psychological treatment. The uptake of psychological treatment under Better Access has been dramatic, suggesting that the programme is addressing an unmet need.

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