Schism

The Honourable John ******
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27 January 2019

The Chair
APS Committee of Review

Dear Mr Gorton

I have become aware, through media reports and other sources, of the unfortunate and undesirable schism which seems to have developed within the professional psychological community.

If I understand matters correctly, including the Minister’s reasons for deferring the Mental Health Benefits Schedule review, I believe we are seeing an ill-considered attempt to stratify the mental health services available to a substantial proportion of patients.

I am not a medically qualified person. I should as a matter of disclosure, declare that my son is a psychologist. However, while I have discussed my concerns with him, my decision to express my concerns about this situation is my decision, alone, and springs from my professional “street experiences” in other areas.

I am a retired journalist, with more than sixty years experience in current affairs radio and television broadcasting. I also served more than eleven years as a member of the New South Wales Parliament.

Some 26 years of the radio experience involved “talkback radio”, where I found myself dealing regularly with callers seeking help or advice about serious personal problems – a great many of them related to depression, or disabling injury, and similar difficulties.

Similarly, in Parliament, I encountered a large volume of people concerned with mental health issues, whose main complaint seemed to be what they saw as the shortage of readily-available mental health treatment, and the difficult access to services. There was a general feeling that there were not enough psychologists available to deal with a clear increase in mental health cases.

This, of course, is dealing with perceptions, as much as with reality.

But I wonder how those people would now view reports of an attempt by a minority (one third) of psychologists, to create an exclusive specialist strata?

Surely the proposed three-tier system would create new and artificial barriers for a clear majority of persons with less critical mental health issues, in terms of the rebates available for treatment. It goes without saying, surely, that what might be considered, in itself, a less critical case, might still be an ongoing condition that could require protracted treatment.

Any barrier, or restriction, or limited availability of any necessary health service is to be deplored in terms of societal caring.

To seek to create such artificial stratification as proposed, without any credible demonstration that a clinical psychologist necessarily provides a higher or more effective level of personal mental health care than a “registered” psychologist, is indefensible.

The original proposal has an uncomfortable feeling of unjustified self aggrandisement at the expense of the patient, and is, I believe in conflict with the principle of a universal health care system offering best available services, without discrimination, to everybody.

For the sake of public perception of the entire profession, and in the face of the demonstrated and increasing crisis in the need for Mental Health Care, I would hope the Australian Psychological Society would reconsider this divisive and negative proposal.

I am available to enlarge upon or discuss what I have written here, if required, and my contact details are at the head of this letter.

Yours sincerely

John **********

Cc: Hon Greg Hunt, Minister for Health
Catherine King MP, Shadow Minister for Health
CEO Australian Psychological Society
Reform Australian Psychological Services