12 January 2024
Under The Microscope feature article

One in five Australian adults aged 16 to 85 years will experience a mental illness each year and almost half will experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

Given GPs are often the first contact point when a mental health issue emerges, a new tool is being rolled out across South Western Sydney to improve how patients seeking mental health support are assessed and referred.

SWSPHN is providing GPs and commissioned service providers with training to use the Initial Assessment and Referral (IAR) Decision Support Tool (DST), an initiative of the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Why the tool was developed

GPs are the most commonly consulted mental health professionals in the country and hold significant expertise in their position as generalists and providers of holistic, lifelong care.

GPs make about 75 per cent of referrals to SWSPHN’s commissioned mental health services.

As the first point of contact for many patients seeking mental health support, it is vital GPs are equipped to provide the best possible support and care to those seeking help.

The IAR-DST assists GPs in recommending the most appropriate level of care.

How the tool helps

SWSPHN commissions a range of services across the stepped care spectrum to meet the mental health needs of our community.

These include: low-intensity services, psychological therapies, specialised services for children, young people, people with severe mental illness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, among others.

The IAR DST is designed to assist the various parties involved in the assessment and referral process to ensure:

  • Patients are guided to the option which best meets their needs, and has the least burden on them and the health system
  • Best use is made of the full range of options available to assist people in need in a way which targets resources to where they are needed most

Ultimately, the IAR will help streamline referral pathways and improve service visibility.

How it works

An initial assessment is used to gather information from the referrer and patient. The assessment is undertaken across eight domains which aim to describe clinical severity and service needs, and guide decisions on the most appropriate next steps (for example, intervention, further assessment).

Find more information by downloading:

About the training

Two hours of training is available to assist GPs in implementing the IAR tool into their daily practice.

The training includes an introduction to IAR; orientation to the domains, levels of care, and the decision support tool; information on clinical judgement and supported decision-making; and a practical activity using case studies to the IAR in referral, assessment and intake settings.

A $300 once-off incentive payment is available per GP and CPD hours apply.

Feedback from GPs

SWSPHN has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from GPs who have completed the training, with many recognising the benefits of using the IAR-DST to improve patient outcomes and welcoming the opportunity to learn more about SWSPHN’s commissioned mental health services.

What’s next

The IAR-DST is being adapted and will be rolled out for children, adolescents and older adults in 2024.

The department is working on digital integration of the IAR-DST in general practice software.

Currently, general practice can access the tool through the:

Smart Referral Form


GP Referral Template which is compatible with their software, which they will be given after completing the training. The IAR-DST is included in this template.

How to find out more about

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an in-person workshop, please do not hesitate to email Brendan.Chiew@swsphn.com.au

Alternatively, you can attend one of our virtual sessions which are listed on the CPD Event Page on SWSPHN’s website.