New service to boost fight against depression

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Australians battling major depression will soon have access to a powerful new form of treatment at Perth’s Hollywood Private Hospital.

Known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), the 45-minute, non-invasive treatment uses magnetic fields to stimulate the brain through the scalp and skull.

Increased demand for the treatment has prompted Hollywood Private Hospital to set up a private service to boost access for Western Australians.

The service will also ease pressure on the public service that is offered at the North Metropolitan Health Service’s mental health neurophysiology unit, where waiting periods range from one to four months.

Use of the treatment in Australia has been limited up until now because although rTMS is approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), it is not funded by Medicare.

Hollywood Clinic psychiatrist Dr Mathew Samuel said The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists had been lobbying for several years for a rebate to be granted for rTMS.

“Hopefully, in two to three years we can see this as a mainstay treatment for people with major depression,” Dr Samuel said.

The Ramsay Health Care facility will be the first hospital in Australia to offer the treatment using the US-manufactured NeuroStar machine when the service is launched in April.

Dr Samuel said the rTMS method could be particularly effective for patients who have tried a range of antidepressant medications without any luck. He said patients who have experienced unwanted drug-related side effects such as weight gain or diminished work performance will also find it beneficial.

“On a regular basis, we see in our offices people who the GPs have tried multiple medications with, along with different types of psychotherapy, and they are still trying to find an answer to their problem,” Dr Samuel said.

“That is where rTMS can help. There is no need for an anaesthetic and there is no stigma. It will be just like coming for psychotherapy with a psychologist.”

Dr Samuel stressed, however, that rTMS was not a replacement for electroconvulsive therapy, which he said still had a role in the treatment of depression.

Hollywood Private Hospital’s rTMS service will be open to people aged 18 and over with major depression, referred by a GP and assessed as suitable. It will be conducted under the supervision of a psychiatrist.

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