Psychiatry workforce shortage should be top priority

19 May 2021

In 2016, the Federal Department of Health conducted a psychiatry review that concluded by 2030, there would be a significant national shortfall of psychiatrists.

Likewise, the New Zealand Ministry of Health is updating their Mental Health and Addiction Workforce Action Plan as part of the government’s response to He Ara Oranga.

Presenting at the RANZCP 2021 Congress, a panel of psychiatrists led by Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists President, Associate Professor John Allan, has gathered to discuss the issues facing the psychiatric workforce in Australia and New Zealand.

‘Over the years we’ve had many reports, and more recently a productivity commission and royal commissions, into the issues our mental health systems are facing in both Australia and New Zealand’, explained Associate Professor Allan.

‘Whilst these reports have identified many recommendations on how to improve the provision of mental health care in our countries, what continues to be ignored is the need for a strong and sustained mental health workforce.

‘We welcome the additional 30 training posts, and other initiatives announced in the Federal Budget, but they are a very small start to what we need to address workforce maldistribution and shortages.

‘Addressing the current workforce imbalance will take time and considerable investment and collaboration from both our state, territory and federal governments, in Australia and New Zealand.

‘There is national work being done to address our workforce issues, but we urge our governments to recognise and respond to the extreme shortages made worse by the pandemic.

‘Our workforce is in dire straits with lengthy wait times, maldistribution and lack of services.

‘We hope that these recent announcements are only the start of a bigger effort to work towards a supported and stable psychiatric workforce.

‘There is also a need to attract more trainees into psychiatry and provide education opportunities for medical practitioners and primary care workers to upskill in mental health, so that the future workforce is sustainable.

‘The reasons for psychiatrists exiting the public sector at alarming rates are complex yet can also be attributed to the excessive demands being placed on them in an under-resourced sector.

‘Consumers, carers and those working in the mental health system, including psychiatrists, are being traumatised by an under-resourced system.

The presentation also explored the issue of psychiatric and mental health workforce shortages being exacerbated where the challenges of recruitment and retention are greater.

‘The current mental health workforce is insufficient to meet demand, with more resources needed for planning, recruiting and retaining the required workforce’, added Associate Professor Allan.

‘This will involve targeted measures to fill current gaps in the workforce, including regional, rural and remote areas, and those that support Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander workforce and service delivery as well as a broad strategy underpinning the growth of the mental health workforce generally.

‘Both Australia and New Zealand are facing uncertain futures in the mental health sector.

‘Now is the time for our governments to rise to the challenge that is before them and begin taking immediate action to provide the support needed to develop and grow a sustainable psychiatric workforce to meet increasing demand.’

For all other expert mental health information visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.

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

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments and other groups on mental health care. 

In Australia: If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or or the Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 467 or

In New Zealand: If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline NZ on 0800 543 354 or or the Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 828 865 or