Evaluation of an Australian primary mental health care program: 10 years on

The Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) program was introduced by the Australian Government in 2001. ATAPS enables general practitioners (GPs) to refer patients with high prevalence mental disorders for low-cost evidence-based mental health care and targets specific hard to reach groups.

The achievements of the program 10 years on are examined including participation rates by professionals and patients, patient and service provision characteristics, and patient outcomes. Data are sourced from a purpose-designed web-based minimum dataset. Between July 2003 and December 2012, over 340,000 referrals have been made by over 25,000 professionals (mainly GPs) and approximately 1.4 million sessions have been delivered by approximately 6,000 professionals (mainly psychologists).

Most patients are females with an average age of 38 years, around 3% are Aboriginal, over half are on a low income and one third have not previously accessed mental health care. Most sessions are approximately 1 hour in duration and provide cognitive behavioural interventions with no cost incurred by patients. Pre- and post-treatment patient outcome data, where available, are indicative of significant clinical improvement. ATAPS continues to be an integral part of the primary mental health care system in Australia. Professionals continue to provide services to a substantial number of patients. In more recent times, the program has carved an important niche by successfully addressing the unmet need of specific and/or hard to reach patients and through means that are not available via other primary mental health programs.

The 14th International Mental Health Conference warmly thanks Dr Bridget Bassilios, a psychologist and research fellow at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, who presented this seminar at the recent conference held 5-7 August at Outrigger Surfers Paradise.  Dr Bassilios has a keen interest in all aspects of mental health service delivery and research. She is involved in policy-relevant evaluation projects related to primary mental health care access and improved mental health outcomes for the Australian community. She has contributed to over 30 commissioned policy-relevant reports and over 10 peer-reviewed journal articles.

This and other presentations from the conference are available as podcasts from our website or by clicking here.

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