More than 25,000 bulk-billed mental health sessions will be available for "priority populations" in the Hunter New England District this financial year to fill a big gap in the system.
The $6.4 million service, which amounts to about 70 sessions a day, was commissioned by Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network [PHN] for the "most financially disadvantaged people across the region".
The PHN is also running a $1.4 million bulk-billed mental health service for children under 12, which has attracted "massive demand".
PHN mental health and suicide prevention manager Leah Morgan said "we're trying to improve equity of access for everybody across the region".
The aim is to ensure people receive mental health care when they need it, regardless of their financial state.
Ms Morgan said a contract for the "priority populations" service was in place for two years, with Hunter Primary Care and Beam Health providing the sessions.
"They predominantly have psychologists, but also mental health social workers, occupational therapists and accredited counsellors," she said.
"We're looking to tailor the clinician to the person and the type of intervention they need."
The priority service, funded by the federal health department, follows a similar program in place for a few years. Its scope has changed, given cost of living pressures.
"We need to make sure the most vulnerable people are able to access services and people who are able to pay a gap fee or out of pocket are accessing those services," Ms Morgan said.
"We're making sure this is a catch-all for anybody else who absolutely cannot find services elsewhere. The cost of a psychology session can leave patients out of pocket more than $100."
Eligible people can get a referral to the service through a GP.
As for the mental health service for children under 12, it has been running for a year and will run for another 12 months.
Ms Morgan said this had been "an unmet need for a long time".
"We've had the contract for 12 months and we're finding demand is well outstripping supply. We offer up to 12 sessions per young person."
PHN chief executive Richard Nankervis said an "annual needs assessment identified a gap within mental health services, particularly for children in priority groups".
"The PHN has responded through the commissioning of this new service, which complements our existing range including Headspace and Head to Health," he said.
The PHN received one-off funding for the children's service 18 months ago from the health department for COVID recovery.
"We found we didn't have a service across the Hunter that was specific to children that offered bulk-billed psychology sessions," Ms Morgan said.
"We decided to direct some funding into this to best support young people and their families, looking at early intervention for childhood trauma."
IN THE NEWS: