The critical role played by rural doctors in providing mental healthcare has been underlined in a new report released on Wednesday, according to the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA).
The major report on general practice care shows the most frequent visits to GPs are for psychological care, demonstrating the sector plays a critical role in helping patients with their mental health as well as physical health.
The report, General Practice: Health of the Nation, is the first of what will be an annual insight into the state of general practice, published by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
"With a shortage of psychologists and other mental health professionals in rural and remote areas, the role of rural doctors in providing mental healthcare is already absolutely critical, and is becoming more so," RDAA president Dr Ewen McPhee said.
"Feedback from many rural and remote doctors backs up the findings in today's RACGP report – namely, that there is a significant mental healthcare load in general practice.
“And this area of general practice care is growing.
"Many rural doctors already undertake additional upskilling in advanced mental healthcare.
"And under the National Rural Generalist Pathway that the Federal Government is progressing, medical graduates training as Rural Generalist doctors will be able to undertake advanced mental healthcare as a key element of their training, alongside other advanced skills.
"Earlier this year, we also welcomed an announcement by the Federal Government that, from November, it will increase access for rural and remote Australians to Medicare-rebated psychological care delivered by video consultations.
"Under the change, psychologists will be able to deliver up to 7 of the currently available 10 face-to-face sessions accessed through a GP. The rebates for these sessions have previously only been available if provided by a GP.”
RDAA says it supports concerns raised by the RACGP, that despite the fact that over 85% of the population visits their GP each year, the general practice sector receives only 5% of the total annual health budget.