Primary health care plan – more detail needed, say psychologists

If the full opportunity for improving delivery of primary health care is to be realised, the Primary Health Care Organisations (PHCOs) must be designed from the ground up, not just a rejigged version of the old system, according to the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

"Primary health care organisations have the potential to greatly increase access to timely and appropriate health care and we support their establishment. However, there is a lack of detail about how they will be established and run," said Professor Lyn Littlefield, Executive Director of the APS.

"We still don't know if these new primary health care organisations will be significantly different to the existing Divisions of General Practice and if consumers and other health professionals will hold equal positions with doctors on their boards," she said.

Professor Littlefield said that there were also continuing concerns over consumer access under the new primary health care plan as there was an over-reliance on the GP workforce and people who didn't have a GP, or access to a GP waiting list, wouldn't be able to access appropriate care.

"Increasing access to health care means utilising the full health workforce and setting up methods to streamline care to the appropriate health professional. We need to redesign the system; it requires a substantive re-thinking and matching changes to primary care structures, training, staffing and funding," Professor Lyn Littlefield said.

"Without including allied health professionals and consumers in the governing bodies of the new PHCOS, you are still working within the old model where patients are treated rather than being viewed as an active partner in the management of their health," she said.

Professor Littlefield said psychologists were intimately involved with the delivery of primary health care across a range of areas including mental health, aged care, chronic disease management and preventative health, and that an adequate psychology workforce was crucial to delivering the government's agenda in primary health care and preventative health care. However, the government flags increasing training places only for GPs, with increased support for psychologists and other allied health limited to scholarships for rural placements and locum support for rural practitioners.

"Primary health care is a vital component of the health reform agenda; in fact, health reform cannot succeed without a new primary health care system. We support the government's vision but we know that the planning and implementation process will define success," she said. "We hope the government will consult with all allied health professions, including psychology, so as to make the best of this opportunity for change."

The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 18,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.

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