Bushfire-specific mental health Medicare-subsidised services

In response to the 2019–20 bushfires, the Australian Government introduced a number of additional Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) subsidised mental health items in January 2020 for Australians whose mental health was adversely affected by a bushfire that occurred in the 2019–20 financial year (for details on these items, see Technical notes). The new services are provided by eligible psychologists, GPs and medical practitioners, social workers, and occupational therapists. Patients are not required to have a diagnosed mental health condition, GP mental health treatment plan, or referral before requesting these additional services.

Data used in this section refer to the MBS claims made during the week beginning 12 January 2020 to the week beginning 28 February 2021 (that is, to the end of the 2020–21 bushfire season). These data relate only to bushfire-specific mental health services that are claimed under a subset of mental health care MBS item numbers.

Use of the bushfire-specific mental health items increased rapidly in the weeks following their introduction. Nationally, the highest number of services claimed were between April and June 2020, averaging around 500–600 services per week (with a peak of about 620 services claimed in the week beginning 21 June 2020). By the end of February 2021, the use of the bushfire-specific mental health items had returned to around half to one-third of the level of service use seen in the middle of 2020, following the typical reduction in number of services around the Christmas/New Year period.

To explore national data and data for states and territories, see interactive data visualisations below (for data tables see Supplementary table S5).

Use of Medicare-funded mental health MBS items for people affected by bushfire, by jurisdiction, 12 January 2020 to 6 March 2021

This chart shows the number of Medicare-funded mental health MBS items claimed for people affected by bushfire and the crude rate of these claims (per 100,000 persons) for the periods 12 January 2020 to 27 February 2021. Data are presented by jurisdiction and by week. While New South Wales had the most services claimed over the period, the crude rate of services claimed was highest for the Australian Capital Territory in many of the weeks in this period.

The highest volume of services was claimed in New South Wales where between 300 and 400 services were claimed in most weeks between February and September 2020. When examining overall rates, the Australian Capital Territory had the highest rate of claims per capita for many of the weeks analysed.

In addition to the specific bushfire response mental health MBS items, MBS-subsidised mental health treatment may also have been provided to those affected by the bushfires through existing MBS mental health items. Similarly, MBS items for mental health treatment that were introduced for people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic may also have been utilised. Therefore, the actual number of mental health MBS services delivered to people affected by the bushfires may be higher than the numbers presented here.