General practice

General practitioners (GPs) are often the first port of call for people seeking help with a mental illness. GPs provide a variety of services, including referral of the patient on to specialised services. This section presents information on mental health-related services provided by GPs, from 2 data sources:

  1. Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) survey of general practice activity, which provides detailed information about GP encounters (Britt et al. 2016) based on data collected from a sample of GPs (throughout this section referred to as estimated GP encounters).
  2. Mental health-related Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items provided by GPs (throughout this section referred to as Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services).

These 2 data sources provide complementary insights into mental health-related GP care. Not all mental health-related GP encounters are billed using mental health-specific Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item numbers. Consequently the number of estimated GP encounters from the BEACH survey deemed to be mental health-related are greater than the number of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services. For more details see the data source section.

Data downloads:

General practitioners 2015–16 tables (4.3MB XLS)

General practitioners 2015–16 section (280KB)

Data coverage includes the time period 2006–07 to 2015–16. This section was last updated in October 2017.

Key points

  • According to the BEACH data, just under 18.0 million estimated GP encounters were mental health-related in 2015–16, equating to around 12.4% of all GP encounters.
  • There has been an annual average increase of 4.7% in the number of estimated GP encounters that were mental health-related since 2011–12.
  • Depression was the most commonly managed problem during a mental health-related estimated GP encounter (about one-third, or 32.1%).
  • The most common management of mental health-related problems was for the GP to prescribe, supply or recommend medication (61.6 per 100 mental health-related problems managed).
  • People aged 65+ had the highest rate of encounters of all the age groups (1,198.2 per 1,000 population), compared to a national rate of 749.9.
  • According to the MBS data, there were about 3.2 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services provided by GPs in 2015–16.

Overview

An estimated 12.4% of all GP encounters reported in the BEACH survey mental health-related encounters in 2015–16. This translates to almost 18.0 million mental health-related estimated GP encounters, or 749.9 encounters per 1,000 population.

About 3.2 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific GP services were provided in 2015–16, or 135.5 services per 1,000 population.

Service provision

States and territories

There were about 3.2 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific GP services provided to over 1.8 million patients in 2015–16. Almost all of these services (3,162,000 or 97.5%) were GP Mental Health Treatment Plan items. Victoria had the highest patient rate (86.0 per 1,000 population) and service rate (156.1 per 1,000 population) while the Northern Territory had the lowest patient rate (39.4 per 1,000 population) and service rate (61.3 per 1,000 population) (Figure GP.1).

Figure GP.1: Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific GP services and patients, states and territories, 2015–16

Vertical bar chart showing the rate of Medicare-subsidised services and patients per 1,000 population by state or territory in 2015–16. For services, NSW had a rate of 137.0 per 1,000 population, Vic 156.1, Qld 137.9, WA 105.6, SA 121.2, Tas 106.5, ACT 110.1, NT 61.3 and a total 135.5. For patients, NSW had a rate of 77.4 per 1,000 population, Vic 86.0, Qld 79.5, WA 62.5, SA 72.3, Tas 68.6, ACT 67.2, NT 39.4 and total 77.2. Refer to table GP.9.

Source: Medicare Benefits Schedule data (Department of Health).

Source data: Mental health-related services provided by general practitioners Table GP.9 (4.3MB XLS).

Over time

The number of estimated GP encounters identified in the BEACH survey as being mental health-related increased by an annual average of 4.7% between 2011–12 and 2015–16. The proportion of all estimated GP encounters that were mental health-related increased from 12.1% in 2011–12 to 12.4% in 2015–16 (Figure GP.2).

Figure GP.2: Estimated GP encounters that were mental health-related (per cent of total GP encounters), BEACH, 2011–12 to 2015–16 

Line graph, including 95%25 confidence intervals, showing the per cent of total GP encounters that were mental health-related from 2011–12 to 2015–16. From 2011–12 to 2015–16 proportions were 12.1, 12.3, 12.8, 12.7, and 12.4. Refer to Table GP.1

Note: The thin vertical bars are 95% confidence intervals. We can be 95% confident that the true value is within the interval depicted.

Source: BEACH survey of general practice activity.

Source data: Mental health-related services provided by general practitioners Table GP.1 (4.3MB XLS).

Since the introduction of the GP Mental Health Care items as part of the Better Access initiative in November 2006, there has been steady growth in the number of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific GP services provided, as demonstrated by an average annual growth of 8.6% in the rate of services over the 5 years to 2015–16 (Figure GP.3).

Figure GP.3: Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific GP services, 2011–12 to 2015–16 

Line chart showing the rates of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific GP services from 2011–12 to 2015–16. In 2011–12 the rate per 1,000 population was 97.5, followed by 2012–13 105.2, 2013–14 113.7, 2014–15 123.5 and 2015–16 135.5. Refer to table GP.7.

Source: Medicare Benefits Schedule data (Department of Health).

Source data: Mental health-related services provided by general practitioners Table GP.7 (4.3MB XLS).

 

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