B.C. psychologists call on Minister Dix to commit $6M to increase equity and access to psychological services

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 20, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted gaps and inequities in B.C.’s healthcare system. High quality mental and behavioural healthcare is currently a luxury when it should be a right. In fact, according to the Canada Health Act, the primary objective of Canadian health care policy is "to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers." However, despite an average of over 3000 hours of graduate level training, registered psychologists are the only regulated specialized mental and behavioural health practitioners who are ineligible to bill services under the Medical Services Plan (MSP), creating a significant financial barrier to British Columbians’ ability to access care.

After hearing from over 5000 people who signed the letter of support, along with government and other healthcare professional stakeholder meetings, we have identified a concrete next step the government can take to immediately increase equity and access to quality mental and behavioral health services:

Using the already-approved 2021-2022 Alternative Payments Program (APP) sessional specialist rate, allow psychologists to provide up to 700 hours of service per week (e.g., 50 psychologists at four 3.5 hour blocks per week) to residents across the province.

This care would be linked to residents’ primary care physician, and would allow for evaluation of patient outcomes, physician satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness. Why is this number both symbolic and important? Simple - it is estimated that over 700 people in British Columbia have already lost their lives to overdose and suicide since January 1st of this year alone. In fact, 45% of people who lose their lives to suicide see their family physician within one month of their death.

The total cost for this proposal translates to less than 0.032% of B.C.’s total healthcare budget. Yes, that is less than ⅓ of 1%.

Thanks to honest and ongoing conversations about the importance of mental health over the last year, government officials have identified this as a major area for investment. Why should psychologists be included and why now? According to Dr. Lesley Lutes, professor of psychology at UBC and a Director of Public Advocacy for BCPA, “Psychologists are needed now because we have the training and expertise to make an immediate impact. Studies repeatedly show that patients benefit the most when psychologists work alongside their medical and other allied health colleagues. Even if you do not take human misery into account, investing in psychologists makes sense from an economic standpoint.”

Accordingly, If we do not heed the lessons of countries that have come before us, we will be doomed to repeat the failures of the past, costing us more time, money, unnecessary suffering, illness, and death. For example, in 2008 after researchers in the UK showed that inadequate mental health treatment was costing the system billions of dollars annually, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program was started. Where are they at now? In January 2021 alone, over 130,000 patients were referred for talk therapy. Of those, 92% initiated care within 6 weeks, and over half required less than 8 sessions for successful treatment completion. Psychologists are an integral part of the program.

The residents of British Columbia have a right to high quality care that gives access to professionals at all levels. The B.C. Psychological Association would like to emphasize, regardless of whether this proposal is accepted today, that we will continue advocating for patient rights and mental health equity.

The British Columbia Psychological Association
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