The decision by Australian Government Mental Health Minister Mark Butler to suspend proposed cuts to the “Better Access” program from a maximum of 16 visits to counselling services to 10 per year appears to be a welcome and rare win for talking therapies over drug therapies.
Minister Butler’s media release stated, “We recognise that reducing the number of rebatable sessions has caused some community concern and that the new services in our mental health package need to build further capacity before they are fully able to provide care and support to those with more complex needs. We will therefore reinstate the additional 6 services under ‘exceptional circumstances’ for a transitional period to 31 December 2012. The transitional period will provide sufficient time for our new mental health services to build capacity and effectively respond to people with more complex needs.” ( see http://www.health.gov.au/internet/ministers/publishing.nsf/Content/mr-yr12-mb-mb005.htm accessed 1 February 2012)
The back-down is only a temporary stay of execution (until 2013) and there is the potential for the ‘exceptional circumstances’ to be so narrowly defined as to prevent people who need the extra 6 sessions getting access. However, it gives hope for those advocating the permanent protection of access to talking therapies. Alternatively it gives Minister Butler time to prove that the much vaunted ‘new mental health services… effectively respond to people with more complex needs.’