The federal government has announced new health support measures in relation to coronavirus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison continued to urge Australians to stay at home.
The new funding, totalling $1.1 billion (see full breakdown below), will consist of:
- Medicare subsidy for telehealth to deliver health services at home
- extra support for mental health services
- more money for domestic violence initiatives
- emergency food & other relief increased
“Right now, it’s about getting more support to people in the community who need it most,” he said.
“Google has shown a 75 per cent increase in searches when it comes to concerns about domestic violence in recent days,” Morrison said.
More income support will be made available. The PM said that solutions could not be ‘cut and pasted’ from other places.
He said the government was learning from the Centrelink and systemic problems this week due to high demand.
“We have even seen where we have moved as part of our second stimulus … even with the significant ramping up of capacity through Centrelink and other government services, that was fairly quickly overwhelmed.”
The income support – widely expected to be a wage subsidy – will be announced soon when arrangements are in place.
“We need to have solutions that will work in Australia and so our approach has been to apply the discipline to the design of measures to deal with unprecedented levels of demand,” Morrison said.
He said Treasury is meeting daily and that “these were not simple things to do”.
The principle of the package, he explained, was to focus on people who have lost employment recently.
OPEN LETTER: Wage Subsidy Backed by 93 Economic Experts.
Media release – Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Women, Assistant Minister for Health, Minister for Families and Social Services, 29 March 2020
$1.1 billion to support more mental health, Medicare and domestic violence services
More help will be given to millions of Australians battling the devastating impacts of coronavirus with a $1.1 billion package which boosts mental health services, domestic violence support, Medicare assistance for people at home and emergency food relief.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said more support would be rolling out immediately to deal with the secondary effects of the health and economic crisis caused by coronavirus.
“As we battle coronavirus on both the health and economic fronts with significant support packages in place and more to come, I am very aware many Australians are understandably anxious, stressed and fearful about the impacts of coronavirus and what it brings,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“We are focused on saving lives and saving livelihoods and this new support package will provide much needed care and help to so many Australians facing hardship at no fault of their own.
“We will get through this crisis by staying together, by supporting each other and ensuring that no Australian, even though we have to be isolated, should have to go through this alone.”
Medicare support at home – whole of population telehealth
To provide continued access to essential primary health services during the coronavirus pandemic, $669 million will be provided to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth services for all Australians, with extra incentives to GPs and other health practitioners also delivered.
Australians will be able to access support in their own home using their telephone, or video conferencing features like FaceTime to connect with GP services, mental health treatment, chronic disease management, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments, services to people with eating disorders, pregnancy support counselling, services to patients in aged care facilities, children with autism, after-hours consultations and nurse practitioners.
Providing the opportunity to get health services at home is a key weapon in the fight against coronavirus while limiting unnecessary exposure of patients and health professionals to the virus, wherever treatment can be safely delivered by phone or videoconferencing. This will take pressure off hospitals and emergency departments and allow people to access essential health services in their home, while supporting self-isolation and quarantine policies.
The GP bulk billing incentive will be doubled for GPs and an incentive payment will be established to ensure practices stay open to provide face to face services where they are essential for patients with conditions that can’t be treated through telehealth. The new arrangements will be in place until 30 September 2020, when they will be reviewed in light of the need to continue the fight against coronavirus.
Domestic violence support
An initial $150 million will be provided to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence due to the fallout from coronavirus.
Google is seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help that they have seen in the past five years with an increase of 75 per cent and some services are already reporting an increase in demand.
The funding will boost programs under the National Plan to reduce Violence against Women and their Children including:
- Counselling support for families affected by, or at risk of experiencing, domestic and family violence including men’s behaviour change programs which will provide a short, medium and longer term response to support men.
- 1800RESPECT, the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling service, which already answers around 160,000 calls a year.
- Mensline Australia, the national counselling service for men that provides support for emotional health and relationship concerns for men affected by or considering using violence.
- Trafficked People Program to support particularly vulnerable cohorts such as victims of human trafficking, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices.
- Support programs for women and children experiencing violence to protect themselves to stay in their homes, or a home of their choice, when it is safe to do so.
A new public communication campaign will roll out to support those experiencing domestic violence over this period and to ensure those affected know where they can seek help.
Minister Payne and Minister Ruston will convene a COAG Women’s Safety Council meeting on Monday to discuss with the states and territories how to best deliver this funding to support local responses to this issue.
Mental health support
An initial $74 million will be provided to support the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians.
The Government’s digital mental health portal, Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au), will be a single source of authoritative information and guidance on how to maintain good mental health during the coronavirus pandemic and in self-isolation, how to support children and loved ones, and how to access further mental health services and care.
A new national communications campaign, delivered in conjunction with the National Mental Health Commission, will provide information about maintaining mental wellbeing, raise awareness of the signs of when you or a loved one needs to get additional assistance, and where to find further information, support and care.
$10 million will be provided to create a dedicated coronavirus wellbeing support line, delivered by Beyond Blue, to help people experiencing concern due to a coronavirus diagnosis, or experiencing stress or anxiety due to employment changes, business closure, financial difficulties, family pressures or other challenges. The Government welcomes an additional $5 million contribution from Medibank to Beyond Blue to support this vital initiative.
$14 million will bolster the capacity of mental health support providers who have experienced an unprecedented surge in call volumes with funding increasing their capacity, including $5 million for Lifeline and $2 million for Kids Helpline. The funding will also bolster other existing services, including digital peer-support to people with urgent, severe and complex mental illness who may be experiencing additional distress at this time.
Health workers, who will be at the frontline of the pandemic, will get dedicated mental health support through digital platforms developed to provide advice, social support, assistance in managing stress and anxiety, and more in-depth treatment without having to attend in-person sessions.
To ensure that older Australians in aged care are not socially isolated despite visiting restrictions, $10 million will be provided to the Community Visitors Scheme. The funding will mean extra staff to train volunteer visitors, who will connect with older people in aged care online and by phone, and assist older Australians keep in touch with the community and loved ones.
To help younger Australians stay on track in their education and training and prepare them for the workforce, $6.75 million will be provided to deliver the headspace digital work and study service and eheadspace. Mentors and headspace vocational specialists working in an integrated team will offer technical and life skills, providing a comprehensive digital support service for all young Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic and after.
For Indigenous Australians, whose elders and communities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts coronavirus, Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia will develop culturally appropriate mental health and wellbeing resources. These will be available and easily accessible across a range of platforms, including print, podcast, NITV, Indigenous print media and internet/social media platforms.
$28.3 million will be utilised to continue to deliver psychosocial support to Commonwealth community mental health clients for a further 12 months. This will allow additional time for people with severe and complex mental illness to complete their applications and testing for support under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Relief services for vulnerable Australians
An additional $200 million will be provided to support charities and other community organisations which provide emergency and food relief as demand surges as a result of coronavirus.
Given the unprecedented nature of the situation, emergency relief services are being heavily relied upon and this demand will increase.
The Community Support Package will provide flexible funding to boost support to services where demand is quickly increasing, including:
- Emergency Relief which will help vulnerable Australians who need assistance with bills, food, clothing or petrol and increase and retain workforce capacity including volunteers.
- Assistance for food relief organisations to source additional food and transport for emergency relief service providers, and rebuild workforce capacity.
- Immediately scale-up services through the National Debt Helpline — which is often the first point of contact for people experiencing financial difficulties, and to support one-on-one tele-financial counselling.
- Creating a short-form Financial Counselling course through Financial Counselling Australia to train new financial counsellors to boost the workforce, potentially providing hundreds of new jobs.
- Expanding access to safe, affordable financial products through the No Interest Loan Scheme which provides an immediate financial relief alternative to other high-risk, high-interest products such as credit cards and payday loans.
Media release – Australian Medical Association, 29 March 2020
COVID-19 – AMA AND GOVERNMENT DEVELOP IMPROVED TELEHEALTH ARRANGEMENTS FOR PATIENTS
A breakthrough agreement brokered by the AMA with the Federal Government for expanded telehealth access to general practitioners and other medical specialists will allow continuation of normal patient care, and reduce the need for scarce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The $699 million breakthrough agreement was announced this morning by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt.
AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, said the new telehealth arrangements will allow even more patients from this week to have consultations with general practitioners and some other medical specialists without leaving home.
Dr Bartone said that the AMA has been working with the Federal Government for weeks to ensure that telehealth is widely available so that patients can access care without the risk of exposure to or spread of the coronavirus.
“This is vital in ensuring that usual patient care can continue comprehensively despite the increasing threat of COVID-19,” Dr Bartone said.
“The new telehealth arrangements to be implemented in the coming days will support patient consultations, which do not require a physical examination, to be conducted with general practitioners and some other medical specialists by telehealth.
“Patients who still need to visit their doctor can continue to do so. “This also means that patients can maintain their home isolation.
“Doctors will be able to conduct telehealth consultations from their practices or while they themselves may be in home isolation. And it will reduce public hospital presentations that could have occurred without telehealth access.
“Critically, it will reduce avoidable use of PPE. Doctors at present require PPE for any patient with symptoms suggesting potential COVID-19. Telehealth consultations require no PPE. It will cut down use of PPE, freeing the scarce supply for use elsewhere in the health system.”
Dr Bartone said that, as part of the negotiations with Health Minister Hunt, the AMA raised concerns about the ongoing sustainability of medical practices should they face business disruption or closure following exposure to COVID-19.
“The AMA agreement with Minister Hunt confirms that the Federal Government will extend three measures to provide ongoing support for general practice and other specialist practices,” Dr Bartone said.
“The first measure is a doubling of the bulk billing incentive for general practitioners to treat patients by telehealth without patient payment.
“Second, changes to bulk billing requirements will allow doctors to follow their usual business practice for telehealth consultations, while concessional patients who visit their GP will continue to receive services at no cost.
“The third measure is an enhanced Practice Incentive Payment (PIP) for general practices during the COVID-19 period, recognising that some consultations require face to face consultations and physical examinations.
“This third measure acknowledges that general practices, like many other businesses across the economy, face viability pressures arising from COVID-19. These practices employ tens of thousands of nurses, receptionists, and related ancillary staff.
“This third measure also recognises that we need medical practices to stay open. It’s essential for many doctors to still be at work to see patients. These frontline doctors need support, as do their family members who worry when they leave for work each morning.”
Dr Bartone said the Government has rightly recognised the growing need of addressing mental health in the community.
“Due to scale and uncertainty of COVID-19, we’ll need to constantly monitor the mental health of the nation and provide further support as it becomes needed,” Dr Bartone said.
“The Prime Minister and Minister Hunt have today made it easier for patients to see their doctors, and for doctors to keep operating their practices as all Australians work to contain the spread of Covid-19 and stay safe and healthy.
“It may take some patients and doctors who are not familiar with telehealth some time to adjust, but the adjustment will be worthwhile,” Dr Bartone said.