Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt has heard from experts about how to address the current exclusion of residents from subsidised psychological services but there is no timeline for action, department officials say.
Despite mounting pressure to fix the issue, the government has made no decisions about solutions to enable older people living in residential aged care to access the Commonwealth’s Better Access mental health program.
Dr Margot McCarthy, deputy secretary ageing and aged care, told a Senate estimates hearing yesterday that the department was “continuing to investigate” the issue but no decisions about either longer term or interim solutions had been made.
Minister Wyatt had convened a meeting of a range of stakeholders with expertise in mental health and aged care to discuss “mental health generally in relation to older people and of course we covered the Better Access issue and … options for how that might be addressed,” Dr McCarthy said.
“We’re still working on that issue. We don’t have a solution we can give you but we can assure you it’s under active consideration.”
She said the department wanted to provide government with a range of options not just including opening up the Better Access initiative to residents.
When pressed for a timeline on a decision by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, Dr McCarthy responded:
“No, I can’t give you a date by which a decision will be made.”
Seniors have ramped up pressure on the government over the issue, launching a petition in January calling on health minister Greg Hunt to reverse the discriminatory policy (see our story here).
Council on the Ageing Australia said that Mr Hunt needed to make the issue “an urgent and early priority”.
The Australian Psychological Society has also called on the government to introduce Medicare-funded psychological treatment for residents.
The lack of mental health services for residents has been a long-standing concern in the sector.
Last year an Australian-first study found that despite high rates of depression among older people living in residential aged care, access to psychologists in facilities remains poor.
The research found that aged care residents were rarely referred to psychologists or for psychological treatments (read that story here).
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