Australian Medical Association (AMA) Vice President, Dr Choong-Siew Yong, today strongly defended private psychiatrists against claims of being ‘failures’ under Medicare, saying they provide the specialised expertise that builds quality into the mental health system and holds it together.
Dr Yong, a salaried psychiatrist who works in the public system in western Sydney and regional New South Wales, said that private psychiatrists are central to the COAG mental health reforms.
The criticisms came from Professor Ian Hickie, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Sydney and a board member of the Mental Health Council of Australia, to make a political point about how mental health professionals should be remunerated.
“The mental health debate in Australia is all about providing access to appropriate care for people with a mental illness, and the mixed public-private system provides the best basis for developing and improving mental health services,” Dr Yong said.
“It is wrong of Professor Hickie to launch an attack on the very people who can improve access to specialist care and improve the quality of that care.
“The AMA has called for a greater role by private psychiatrists in the provision of mental health care and services as team leaders with other mental health professionals.
“With the medical workforce shortages hitting the mental health sector hard, this is the way we have to go – people with mental illness must have choice, just the same as people with other illnesses.
“There is a shortage of psychiatrists in regional Australia, as there is with other specialties, but better access to higher quality mental health services for all Australians can only be achieved with private psychiatrists under the Medicare umbrella.
“It would be wrong to remove Medicare benefits from people being treated for mental illness by private psychiatrists – a possible consequence of Professor Hickie’s proposals,” Dr Yong said.
Private psychiatrists in Australia treat more than 300,000 patients a year at a cost of $461 million, which is an efficient use of resources. The public system treats 160,000 patients a year at a cost of more than $2 billion.