ATAPS mental health professionals include psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, occupational therapists and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers with specific mental health qualifications.
Through ATAPS, patients are eligible for a maximum of 12 sessions per calendar year - six time-limited sessions with an option for a further six sessions following a mental health review by the referring GP. Sessions can be individual and/or group therapy sessions. ATAPS provides patients with assistance for short-term intervention. If further sessions are required it may mean that the patient needs a longer term program to meet his/her needs.
In addition, the referring practitioner may consider that in exceptional circumstances the patient may require an additional six individual focussed psychological strategies services above those already provided (up to a maximum total of 18 individual services per patient per calendar year). Exceptional circumstances are defined as a significant change in the patient's clinical condition or care circumstances which make it appropriate and necessary to increase the maximum number of services. It is up to the referring practitioner to determine that the patient meets these requirements. In these cases a new referral should be provided, and exceptional circumstances noted in that referral.
Through ATAPS, patients are also eligible for up to 12 separate group therapy services, within a calendar year, involving 6-10 patients. These group services are separate from the individual services and do not count towards the 12 individual mental health services in a calendar year.
Patients are not to be referred for treatment through Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medical Benefits Schedule (Better Access) initiative and ATAPS at the same time or in the same calendar year unless their individual circumstances have changed. Changed circumstances include: changes in location where the person is no longer able to access Better Access services due to workforce constraints; or their financial circumstances change and they are no longer able to meet the co-payments associated with Better Access services. In deciding if ATAPS is more appropriate GPs should consider the focus and target of the ATAPS program.
Medicare Locals act as fundholders for ATAPS. The Australian Medicare Local Alliance is the peak national body representing 61 Medicare Locals. All 61 Medicare Locals are funded to provide mental health services across the country. The Australian Medicare Local Alliance provides an on-line Network Directory on its website which allows individuals to obtain information on Medicare Locals. The Australian Medicare Local Alliance also provides a number of training and support resources for Medicare Locals.
Appropriate mental health training can help GPs to further develop and improve their skills in diagnosing, treating and referring patients with mental disorders to appropriate services. It is strongly recommended that GPs participate in appropriate mental health training, such as that accredited by the General Practice Mental Health Standards Collaboration.
ATAPS evaluation reports
ATAPS review (Outcomes and proposed next steps: review of the Access to Allied Psychological Services component of the Better Outcomes in Mental Health Care program)