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Public mental health confidence crisis not addressed

21 June 2019

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists New South Wales Branch (RANZCP NSW Branch) welcomes the government’s budget commitment to deliver on election promises for perinatal beds and the improvement in eating disorder services.

The RANZCP NSW Branch, however, is concerned that there is no overall increase to the mental health budget at a time when demand is increasing.

‘Last month, we saw some of our most eminent and experienced psychiatrists speak out to expose the parlous state of our public mental health system and the impact it’s having on driving psychiatrists out of the system’, said RANZCP NSW Branch Chair, Dr Angelo Virgona.

‘The State Budget did announce a plan to recruit more psychiatrists/trainees, but this has come out of left field and without a coherent plan.

‘We don’t know how many will be employed, where they’ll be deployed or what roles they’ll have. This is critical to know because the RANZCP will play the primary role in training and supporting any new doctors in the system.

‘The RANZCP, along with a number of other stakeholders, has worked with the Department of Health for nearly year on a psychiatry workforce plan. This plan has not been completed but will be key to improving workplace conditions, flexibility, on-call burdens, leave relief and trialling innovative models of care’.

Dr Virgona said the last thing needed was announcements like these that occur in the current planning vacuum.

‘It is imperative that this workforce plan is completed to drive the implementation of any new psychiatric positions.

‘Plus, employing extra doctors is only part of the solution,’ said Dr Virgona.

‘We might get workplace conditions improved, but if the mental health system’s capacity constraints continue, we set up any new doctors to burn out and leave.

‘And one thing is for certain, psychiatrists who left the public system and now work in private practice are not going to return to a public system that is in persisting decline’.

Dr Virgona affirmed the importance of infrastructure spending on new and improved hospitals but maintained that the most critical resource in mental health is bodies on the ground – highly trained clinicians to assess and provide ongoing care on every part of the patient journey.

‘There is simply not enough of any professional group (medical, nursing or allied health) to meet the extraordinary demand out there, particularly in post-hospital care.

‘So a static mental health budget of $2.1 billion, which in real terms is a reduction in spending, just doesn’t cut it.

‘We need a system designed and funded to meet the reasonable needs of those with serious mental illnesses in our hospitals and communities, and to provide ongoing care for those who really need it.

‘Significant recurrent investment is going to be required to make that a reality. A fixation with surpluses, in this context is, at best, hollow and misguided.

‘We stand ready to work constructively with government on a sustainable, positive plan to grow the mental health workforce of NSW for the future’.

ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call Sarah Carr on +61 (0)3 9640 0646 or +61 437 315 911, or email