Victoria’s sick and terminally ill to lose specialist psychological support

Sick and terminally ill patients in Victoria will lose critical psychological support under a new health professional accreditation scheme proposed by the Commonwealth and state governments, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) said today.

The APS said the plan to exclude health psychologists from the list of endorsed areas of practice in the new national registration and accreditation scheme (NRAS) would leave thousands of vulnerable patients without important support.

APS psychologist and Deakin University School of Psychology Professor, John Toumbourou, said leaving health psychology out of the NRAS was a major blow for patients and their families, and healthcare providers.

"This bureaucratic oversight is stalling health psychology training courses that are needed to produce effective practitioners that can provide treatment and prevention services for large numbers of the sick and most vulnerable in our community," Prof Toumbourou said.

"I challenge the NRAS to respond to my one question - Having failed to accredit a strong health psychology profession what is the NRAS plan to respond to the epidemic of chronic health problems that are projected to overwhelm Australia's future health budget?"

Scores of patients across Australia already rely on health psychologists to help them through their darkest hours. Although largely unrecognised, Australian health psychologists have been central players in health initiatives that have placed Australia at the international forefront in - helping people quit tobacco, preventing accidents and rehabilitating victims and reducing alcohol and drug-related harm.

"We are in grave danger of quacks and shonks stepping in to offer psychological support to our most vulnerable," Prof Toumbourou said.

"People battling cancer and heart disease, severely injured in car accidents or struggling with HIV need specialist support from professionals that understand their condition, not so-called life coaches and backyard faith healers," he said.

Prof Toumbourou said the decision was ludicrous as health psychologists were at the forefront of the preventative health agenda.

"Governments are employing more and more health psychologists to develop public health programs that address problems associated with alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and obesity," he said.

Prof Toumbourou said he supported the government's accreditation scheme to provide consumer protections to those in need of health care.

"We believe all Australians should receive high quality, accredited health care. That's why we're so concerned about patients needing health psychology services being left without protection," he said.

Prof Toumbourou said the initial NRAS accreditation decisions have been quite arbitrary. Organisational and sports psychology have been rushed to be accredited under the NRAS.

"So Mark McInnes and Ricky Ponting will now have access to nationally recognised and accredited psychologists, yet sick and terminally ill patients will miss out," he said.

Prof Toumbourou said the United Kingdom, the United States and the Psychology Board of Australia acknowledged the importance of health psychology.

"The Commonwealth and state health ministers can review and rectify this decision on 1 July - if they wait until after that date there are risks that valuable courses will close," he said.


National Registration and Accreditation Scheme

In early April, the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council (AHWMC) proposed to exclude health psychology as an area of endorsed practice in psychology under the new National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS) (beginning July 1).

AHWMC has chosen to endorse seven of the nine areas of specialist practice in psychology recognised by the APS, that being clinical psychology, counselling psychology, education and developmental psychology, organisational psychology, sport and exercise psychology, forensic psychology, and clinical neuropsychology. The APS recognised specialty areas of health psychology and community psychology have not been included. The APS believes this decision has serious consequences for the Australian public, the Australian health care system, and Australian psychology in both the local and international context.

Health psychology

Health psychologists help adults with acute and chronic medical problems: 1) cope with associated emotional problems, 2) change health behaviours around diet, smoking, exercise, drinking, 3) manage their symptoms such as pain, weight gain, nausea better. Health psychologists also play a central role in preventative health.

Case study: Available for interviews

Carolee Jones is a 42 year old Melbourne woman who worked with a health psychologist predominantly on her medicine adherence and pain management for systemic lupus. She uses a number of medicines to manage her immune inflammatory condition, but also to manage her high levels of pain. She is also a nurse and is frustrated that hospitals don't have health psychologists as a standard part of health care.

Professor John Toumbourou, School of Psychology, Deakin University
Ph: 0419 582 889

* Please note that tailored media releases were prepared for each state.