The Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (Better Access) initiative commenced in November 2006. The initiative aimed to improve the treatment and management of mental illness within the community (Dept Health and Ageing, nd), particularly for people with high prevalence mental disorders.

Better Access formed part of the Commonwealth component of the Council of Australian Governments' National Action Plan on Mental Health 2006-2011 (COAG 2006). It addresses the four outcomes outlined in the Plan, particularly outcomes 1 and 3:

  1. Reducing the prevalence and severity of mental illness in Australia;

  2. Reducing the prevalence of risk factors that contribute to the onset of mental illness and prevent longer term recovery;

  3. Increasing the proportion of people with an emerging or established mental illness who are able to access the right health care and other relevant community services at the right time, with a particular focus on early intervention; and

  4. Increasing the ability of people with a mental illness to participate in the community, employment, education and training, including through an increase in access to stable accommodation.
As part of the National Action Plan, the Commonwealth Government undertook to significantly expand its funding in services delivered by private psychiatrists in the community, general practitioners (GPs), psychologists, mental health nurses and other allied health professionals (COAG 2006: 1). In doing this, Better Access introduced new MBS Items for the medical and allied mental health workforce: a total of 26 Items were introduced with another two Items redefined (see Appendix A). Together, these 28 MBS Items provided incentives for:
  • General practitioners to participate in the early intervention, assessment and management of patients with mental disorders and to streamline access to appropriate psychological interventions in primary care;

  • Private psychiatrists to see more new patients, and expand their role as specialists in backing up the primary health care sector;

  • Psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists to be involved in treating patients with mental disorders as part of a coordinated program (via referral pathways) of primary care.
Better Access complements mental health services provided through the Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS). Like ATAPS, Better Access 'supports general practitioners and allied health professionals to work together to provide optimal mental health care' (Fletcher et al 2009: 2). The two programs differ, however, in relation to funding mechanisms: ATAPS are funded by the Commonwealth Government through the Divisions of General Practice; services delivered through Better Access are funded by the Commonwealth Government through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS).