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Phone access to GPs and mental health help expands

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All Australians will be able to consult their GP over the phone and access new coronavirus-specific mental health support under a $1.1 billion package.

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The Morrison government is expanding Medicare subsidies for telehealth to the entire population, giving more money to domestic violence and mental health support services, and providing $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.

“As we battle coronavirus on both the health and economic fronts with significant support packages in place and more to come, I am very aware many Australians are understandably anxious, stressed and fearful about the impacts of coronavirus and what it brings,” he said on Sunday.

“We will get through this crisis by staying together, by supporting each other and ensuring that no Australian, even though we have to be isolated, should have to go through this alone.”

The bulk of the new money goes to the expansion of telehealth subsidies.

The $669 million will allow all Australians to consult their GP and other health practitioners by phone or using video-conferencing, such as FaceTime or Skype, meaning they can still access health services while quarantining or socially distancing themselves at home.

To encourage GP practices to stay open for people who still need face-to-face services, the bulk billing incentive will be doubled between now and the end of September.

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 to stay in a home of their choice when it is safe to do so.

Domestic violence services have warned about a likely spike in violence as people are forced indoors through the social distancing needed to stop the spread of the virus.

They pointed to increased domestic violence rates in China while it shut down.

And Google has told the government is it seeing a massive increase in people searching online for domestic violence help, spiking in the first week of March to the highest number of searches in five years.

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.

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.

– AAP

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