As part of a wider $1.1 billion funding boost designed to deal with the secondary effects of the health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, the Prime Minister said the government will be providing “much-needed care and help to so many Australians facing hardship at no fault of their own”.
Under the program, small and medium-sized businesses will gain access to a dedicated national mental health support service related to the coronavirus outbreak and delivered by Beyond Blue.
As announced by the Prime Minister on Sunday, Beyond Blue will receive $10 million to fund the new COVID-19 Mental Health Support Service, which will offer free information and counselling.
In a separate statement issued by Beyond Blue, the organisation said it will “rapidly build and launch the new service”, in partnership with Medibank Health Solutions and Accenture.
“While the Beyond Blue Support Service will continue, this new and dedicated service, which we will work around the clock to build, will offer 24/7 online self-help tips and tools to help people cope and manage, professional counselling by phone, easy access to Beyond Blue’s online forums for peer-to-peer support, and navigate people to a range of other services and tools,” said Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman.
Applauding the news, the small business ombudsman called it a “life-saving” initiative.
“My office will be working closely with Beyond Blue to help ensure small businesses are being supported during this uncertain time,” said Kate Carnell, stressing the importance of a specialised approach for SMEs and sole traders, who are under extraordinary pressure.
“Our My Business Health web portal will be an important part of this mental health initiative. It also features a section for those struggling with the COVID-19 crisis.
“We will continue to build on the work we have already done with leading mental health organisations, such as Beyond Blue, to add to the evidence-based resources available on the My Business Health.”
Also, part of the government’s mental health boost is a $14 million grant to bolster the capacity of mental health support providers who have experienced an unprecedented surge in call volumes, including $5 million for Lifeline.
Earlier this month, John Brogden, Lifeline Australia chairman, said the suicide prevention service will continue to answer calls throughout the coronavirus crisis.
“Today, we want to reassure Australians that no matter what happens with COVID-19, if the government calls for a lockdown in any or all of Australia, Lifeline is prepared and we are committed to being available to any person who needs us through the 13 11 14 phone line, text and online services.”
Mr Brogden also called on Australians to look out for each other.
“The current social isolation policy means many of the important opportunities for people to connect with each other and do things they enjoy are being stopped. For someone who is already struggling, this can be a huge blow.
“By reaching out to someone who may be struggling and letting them know you care, you can send a really powerful message of hope.”
No out-of-pocket costs
The bulk of the government’s $1.1 billion funding — $669 million — is directed towards expanding 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,” the Prime Minister said.
Explaining that the ability to get health services at home is a key weapon in the fight against the coronavirus, Scott Morrison said the GP bulk billing incentive will be doubled for GPs and an incentive payment will be established to ensure practices stay open.
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 the coronavirus.