Hunter New England Health counselling service shake-up

HUNTER New England Health will discontinue its free general counselling services by the end of the financial year in a move to focus on specialist services.

Starting this month, more than 1500 patients who visit centres in the Hunter, including Toronto, Newcastle and Windale, will be transferred to Hunter Medicare Local and non-government providers. These include Headspace, Catholic Care and the University of Newcastle's psychology clinic.

The decision came as part of a national overhaul of health services under the National Health and Hospitals Agreement.

A Hunter Health statement said clients with mild mental health issues would be redirected, while those with severe problems would remain under its specialist mental health counselling service.

Lake Macquarie state MP Greg Piper has argued against the decision, saying many people would not be able to afford the co-payments required by Hunter Medicare Local and some non-government providers.

He urged NSW health minister Jillian Skinner to unlock more funding to allow the general counselling service to continue.

However, Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRienzo said this was not the reason the service was closing.

"For many years, Hunter New England Health counselling services ensured people had good access to care at a time when few private and non-government providers could match their services to community needs and demand," Mr DiRienzo said.

"In the past decade the range of alternative services has grown significantly and many of these providers now duplicate our services."