I’m one of the newest members of the First Step team and am seeing first-hand the impact the bulk billing crisis is having on medical services to the broader community.
As a registered psychologist, I offer psychological therapy under a GP mental health treatment plan, and often find my clients can’t afford to pay for the essential care they need.
Does that mean a service shouldn’t be available to them, just because they can’t afford it?
I don’t think so.
Personally, I believe access to physical and mental health care is a basic human right that should be available to anyone, regardless of their income.
Unfortunately, in community health services we are seeing an increase in costs to deliver services, and eventually this increase is passed on to the patient - who may, or may not, be able to afford it. A gap payment from the patient almost seems inevitable when you consider the pay cut to practitioners working in bulk billing services versus those in full fee practices. Unless the government puts more investment into general practice care, we will continue to see costs rise, and practitioners opting out of the bulk billing services and into full-fee-paying clinics.
As more bulk billing practices begin to charge fees or aren’t able to meet demand due to staffing shortages, inevitably we see pressure put on remaining clinics like First Step, in the form of increased patient numbers and waitlists. From my viewpoint, it appears like an unavoidable widening of the gap in access to medical services.
Already, after only working at First Step for a few months, I’ve had to put a stop on new referrals and begin a waitlist because demand for psychological services is so high.
While I am so happy to work for an organisation like First Step that opens its doors to everyone and anyone, I am somewhat saddened when I think of the overall system, and how it supports our community’s most vulnerable.
Personally, I wish there were 1,000 more First Steps across Victoria. Where anyone can have access to medical care, and those practitioners were paid as much as practitioners at any other clinic. Because in my experience, the services provided are just as essential.
Siobhan McKenna, Psychologist