National mental health information priorities 2nd edition

2.11 - Developments in primary mental health care

Page last updated: June 2005

The primary health and community care sector is the most commonly used part of the health system, being accessed by 85% of Australians each year. General practitioners play the central role and provide the first point of contact for people seeking help for mental health problems. Recent data suggest that mental health problems account for approximately 7% of all problems managed by general practitioners and are a presenting feature in about 10% of all attendances.21

A series of financial incentives, training programs and other initiatives were taken under the Second National Mental Health Plan to strengthen the capacity of general practitioners to respond to common mental health problems in the community. In particular, the Better Outcomes in Mental Health Care program, introduced in 2001, established new arrangements designed to expand treatment choices in general practice, increase access to psychological therapies, improve the integration of primary and secondary care mental health services, and strengthen the provision of more evidence based treatments. Incentives include new reimbursement arrangements under the Medicare Benefits Schedule that remove financial barriers that previously acted to discourage general practitioners from providing mental health care. Additionally, funds have been made available for general practitioners to refer patients to allied health professionals. By June 2003, an estimated 15% of general practitioners had 'signed up' to participate in the new arrangements.

An important feature of the new approach is the requirement for participating general practitioners to use standardised measures of consumer outcome in monitoring individual progress. While specific arrangements have not been made for pooling these data at national level, the introduction of an outcomes focus in primary mental health care provides a foundation to develop the use of these measures for evaluation, decision support and related purposes.


21 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2004). ibid.