All Australians will be able to consult their GP over the phone and access new coronavirus-specific mental health support under a A$1.1 billion package.
The Morrison government is expanding Medicare subsidies for telehealth to the entire population, giving more money to domestic violence and mental health support services.
It is also and providing A$200 million to charities and community organisations who give emergency relief, such as food banks, and financial counselling.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says this latest round of spending aims to deal with the secondary effects of the health and economic crises the coronavirus is causing.
There is A$669 million to Medicare-subsidised telehealth services, so people can continue to have access to quality healthcare from home.
“We are asking Australians to stay home, particularly older Australians, even more so. And we want to ensure that they can continue to get access to health care and health advice and support from GPs,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.
It will allow all Australians to consult their GP and other health practitioners by phone or using video-conferencing, such as FaceTime or Skype.
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said the telehealth arrangements will allow even more patients from this week to have consultations with general practitioners and some other medical specialists without leaving home.
“This is vital in ensuring that usual patient care can continue comprehensively despite the increasing threat of COVID-19,” Dr Bartone said in a statement.
Another $150 million will boost programs already in place to combat domestic violence.
This will include counselling, the 1800RESPECT domestic, family and sexual violence counselling service, Mensline Australia, the trafficked people program, and support for women and children experiencing violence to protect themselves and stay in a home of their choice when it is safe to do so.
Domestic violence services have warned of a likely spike in violence as people are forced indoors by the social distancing needed to stop the spread of the virus.
They pointed to increased domestic violence rates in China during its shutdown.
Campaigning group Fair Agenda said announcement is a good start, but falls well short of what is needed during this pandemic.
“Experts have already told the Morrison government that even just for safe at home programs alone, $180 million is what’s needed to meet demand,” it’s executive director Renee Carr said.
“Today’s commitment appears to be $150 million spread across at least 6 different service areas.”
To bolster mental health, a new dedicated coronavirus wellbeing support line will be set up by BeyondBlue, funded with $10 million from the federal government and $5 million from Medibank.
It will help people who are concerned because they have been diagnosed with the disease, or are experiencing stress or anxiety due to employment changes, business closure, financial difficulties, family pressures or other challenges.
“This is a good (mental health) package,” Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bowen told reporters in Sydney.
“The thing causing the most mental health anguish in Australia today is job insecurity. People are worried about where their job will come from, whether it will still exist.”
Lifeline Australia chairman John Brogden said the additional funding will ensure that no Australian has to face their darkest moments alone during the COVID-19 outbreak.
As well, the government will give existing mental health support line services, including Lifeline and Kids Helpline a $14 million boost.
There will also be dedicated support for health workers, older Australians, indigenous communities and young people.
By Katina Curtis and Colin Brinsden