Rural residents at “breaking point” because of the drought will get the chance to be treated in their living rooms through funding from the federal government.
This week federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton told of a $3.6 million injection into the Medicare Benefits Schedule which would allow GPs in drought-affected communities to offer mental health support services via videoconferencing.
The funding has been welcomed by the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) which has lobbied for the opportunity to help people, particularly those who live “a long way out of town”.
“This is the first time that local rural doctors will be able to offer this service,” RDAA president Dr Adam Coltzau said.
“The tyranny of distance can be a big factor in whether rural families drive to town to access their doctor for mental healthcare or other care, particularly when the distance into town can be upwards of 300 kilometres.
“Now their local rural doctor will be able to provide mental healthcare to them via the phone or videoconferencing, and the cost of the consult will be rebatable for the patient through Medicare.”
Dr Coltzau, from St George in Queensland, said many rural families were at breaking point from the financial and emotional pressure wrought by the drought.
“But too few are seeking mental health help because it is just too far for them to get into town to talk to their doctor,” he said.
“This $3.6 million initiative will make it possible for rural patients in drought-affected communities, particularly those who live a long way out of town, to have their trusted local doctor effectively in their living room, via a phone or video hookup, to discuss mental health concerns they may have.”
Mr Coulton also announced a “mental health investment” of $6 million in the Parkes electorate to further support communities affected by the drought.
He said the Western NSW, and the Hunter New England and Central Coast, primary health networks would receive $3 million across two years from 2018/2019.