Mental health facilities have opened, but ignored workforce shortages mean no one is home
Today’s announcement shows the state Labor government continues to ignore red flags raised by head teachers, psychologists and counselors that Victoria’s mental health workforce fails to meet the demand for youth mental health.
Understaffed mental health services cannot provide the preventative care and support that Victorian children desperately need.
Shadow Minister for Mental Health Emma Kealy said the Parkville Youth Preventive and Rehabilitative Care Center (YPARC) was needed, but it came as the sector faced high demand and severe shortages of specialists.
“The government is big on fanfare, but more groundbreaking ceremonies will do little to address the real problem of overworked and tired mental health workforce shortages,” Ms Kealy said.
“Every headspace in Victoria has vacancies for mental health workers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and youth workers.
“Mental health experts tell us the two-month delay in getting an appointment leaves children at crisis point and puts the lives of young people at risk.
“School principals are calling for more resources to help children who are experiencing ‘deep’ levels of anxiety after two years of lost learning and time away from the classroom.
“But instead of supporting Liberal and National plans to release thousands of trainee counselors and psychologists to support exhausted workers, the Labor government is actively blocking them and preventing children from recovering.”
Three years ago, the Royal Commission warned that Victoria must act urgently to address critical labor shortages, with more than half of the recommendations detailing solutions to labor pressures.
The damning assessment found that there were not enough workers ‘in most occupations’ leading to ‘burnout, low morale and deskilling’.
Furthermore, “workforce shortages have powerful negative effects on access and quality of care, ultimately compromising outcomes for people with mental illness, their families and caregivers” (report intermediate, p453).
“State Labor has been in government for 19 of the past 23 years, but still ignores dire warnings to rebuild our mental health workforce,” Ms Kealy said.
“Only a change of government will deliver Australia’s biggest recruitment campaign for mental health workers ever, changes to funding criteria for an additional 2,000 trainee psychologists in clinics and legislative reform to unlock 2,000 counselors for our schools.
“Liberals and Nationals will work with the sector to reduce mental health waiting lists so children can get help long before they reach crisis point.”
Five of the nine recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System: Interim Report regarding workforce shortages, including:
Recommendation 7 (Workforce preparation)
The Royal Commission recommends that the Government of Victoria, through the Office of Mental Health Implementation, prepare for workforce reform and address workforce shortages by developing education and training pathways and recruitment strategies by providing:
• public mental health services in areas of need, including rural and regional areas, through an expression of interest process that offers a minimum of:
– 60 new funded graduate internships for allied health professionals and other professionals
– 120 additional funded internships for graduate nurses
• Mental Health Nursing Postgraduate Fellowships to an additional 140 nurses each year, which cover full study costs
• an agreed proportion of junior doctors to undertake a rotation in psychiatry, starting in 2021, mandatory for all junior doctors by 2023 or earlier
• international recruitment campaigns, including resources to help mental health services recruit internationally, new recruitment partnerships between organizations and mentoring programs for new employees
• a “Mental Health Leadership Network” with representation across the state and various disciplines, including lived experience workforces, supported to collaboratively participate in new learning, training and mentorship opportunities
• Collecting and publishing the profile of the mental health workforce across all geographies, disciplines, settings and sub-specialties
• Mechanisms for ongoing data collection and analysis of workforce gaps and projections, and regular workforce mapping to address these gaps.