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Andrew Brown

Subsidised psychology visits to be halved

Minister Mark Butler says subsidising 20 psychology appointments had lessened access for many. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS) (AAP)

The number of subsidised psychology appointments Australians are able to access will be halved from next year following cuts to a government scheme.

From 2023, patients will only be able to claim 10 subsidised appointments, down from the 20 which had been available during the pandemic.

Health Minister Mark Butler confirmed the changes following a review of the Better Access for Mental Health program, the first review of the scheme in more than a decade.

While the program allowed for 10 psychology appointments to be claimed through Medicare, the number was increased to 20 in response to the COVID lockdowns in 2020.

Money for the additional appointments will run out at the end of the year, with Mr Butler indicating the funding won't be renewed.

The health minister said the additional appointments that were able to be claimed extended waitlists and increased barriers for people to access the service.

"The evaluation found that all of the additional services went to existing patients and that the number of new patients who were able to get into the system and get access to psychology services actually declined by seven per cent," he told reporters in Adelaide on Monday.

"All of the growth in services went to the highest income Australians, with the lowest-income Australians actually receiving fewer services over this period... wait times blew out for everyone."

The health minister said he would hold talks in the new year with stakeholders on making the scheme more accessible.

However, the decision to halve the number of Medicare-subsidised appointments has been slammed by peak bodies in the industry.

Executive director of the Australian Association of Psychologists Tegan Carrison said the organisation was disappointed by the cuts.

"Given the devastating impact of the pandemic, regular natural disasters, increasing levels of mental ill-health and unprecedented demand, this decision is denying people the level of mental health care they so desperately need," she said.

"We implore the federal government to give more consideration to the mental wellbeing of all Australians."

The association had previously called for a $150 rebate for psychology patients in order to make the visits more affordable.

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