PACFA Advocacy Update

PACFA would like to thank and acknowledge all our members who have contacted us regarding PACFA’s advocacy priorities during the unprecedented global public health response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Many of our members have recently reached out to PACFA’s advocacy team, calling for greater recognition and inclusion of Counsellors and Psychotherapists in the Australia Government‘s response to COVID-19, including through the Medicare Benefits Scheme.

We have received some very thoughtful advice and ideas from members about how best to advocate for recognition of Counsellors and Psychotherapists during the pandemic response, including collaborative advocacy and petitioning Parliam  ent. Due to the announcement that Parliament will not be sitting again until 11 August, some avenues of advocacy are not currently available, however we have been working hard in the background to ensure that momentum is not lost on the issues that matter most to our members.

PACFA has been collaborating over several months with the ACA on a proposal to the Minister for Health seeking recognition of Counsellors and Psychotherapists as part of the Australian Mental Health Workforce, through including appropriately skilled and qualified Counsellors and Psychotherapists as providers in the Better Access initiative. PACFA and the ACA both saw the opportunity presented by the expansion of mental health funding as part of the COVID-19 response to call on support from the Minister for recognition of our members now. We have recently finalised our submission to the Minister and we will keep all members updated on the outcomes of our advocacy.

We have also been liaising regularly with colleagues from other Allied Health professions through our membership of the peak body for Allied Health, AHPA. This has been an extremely valuable opportunity to share resource with other health professions, and to get access to information about high-level discussions with the Department of Health in relation to the government’s response to COVID-19.

PACFA has been actively engaging with private health funds in the last two weeks to ensure that members who are private health providers can switch to providing their services via telehealth. The CEO submitted a literature review to the peak body for Private Health, Private Healthcare Australia, to support this advocacy work. We received a quick and positive response from Bupa, who are now accepting telehealth consultations. Bupa have even agreed to temporarily waive the first aid certificate requirements for members apply to be become Bupa providers. We are expecting a positive response very soon from Police & Emergency Services Health funds and will keep all members updated via email and the PACFA website.

PACFA is also advocating for broader workforce recognition of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, including in mental health and allied health workforce legislation at the national, state and territory levels. Earlier this year PACFA made a comprehensive Submission to the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health which outlines in detail the changes we are calling for in Australia’s mental health system. PACFA members are welcomed to download and read the submission.

The Final Report of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into Mental Health is due to be completed in late May. However, with the sitting of Federal Parliament delayed until August, PACFA expects that the Government’s tabling of this review and eventual response will be significantly delayed.

PACFA, along with many other allied mental health professional bodies, is eagerly awaiting the Government’s response to the MBS Review Taskforce. At this stage, it remains unclear whether changes to the MBS will be expedited or delayed as a result of COVID-19.

The National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) and the Australian Government Department of Health are jointly leading a review of the National Mental Health Workforce Strategy. At a Mental Health Australia Policy Forum in Canberra on 12 March, Tom Brideson, joint chair of the taskforce leading the review, noted that the Mental Health workforce of the future cannot simply include only those professions currently recognised. One of the most crucial components to increased recognition of Counsellors and Psychotherapists in Australia is formal inclusion of Counsellors and Psychotherapists as part of the Australian Mental Health Workforce. PACFA will be working hard to make sure that we are included in consultations for this crucial workforce review and we will call for an urgent expansion of workforce definitions.

PACFA would like to acknowledge once again all of our members who stepped forward to volunteer during Australia’s unprecedented bushfires and floods. The NMHC has been funded to develop a National Disaster Response Framework for Mental Health. PACFA will ensure we are involved in the frameworks’ development. We will be strongly recommending long term trauma informed approaches which include the crucial services delivered by counsellors and psychotherapists.

PACFA will keep all our members informed of the outcomes of our ongoing advocacy at the national, state and territory levels. Members are encouraged to keep informed through the Latest News on the PACFA website and by liking and following the PACFA Facebook page.