Over recent years, the mental health of workers in Victoria’s health sector has become a more prominent issue. Protecting the mental health of health workers is finally being recognised in our workplaces but unfortunately this recognition has not put a stop to members’ mental health being put at risk on a daily basis with many reporting ongoing mental health injuries. Sadly the recognition has not resulted in any effort made by health services to address the cause – gross understaffing and excessive workloads and high levels of work stress.
From the “No Pay? No Way!” surveys over recent years, it has become evident that there are very real concerns about the impacts of work on the mental health and general well-being of our members.
In the 2018 survey the Union included questions about health and well-being given the significant rise in responses from members to previous surveys. When asked about whether there was an adverse impact from high work stress on their general health and well-being our members indicated that these impacts had worsened in the past 4 years.
Many members who participated in the research identified increases in stress and exhaustion as some of the major impacts. It is clear that there are increasing health and well-being risks as more staff across a range of disciplines are highlighting ever increasing workloads and the resulting stress. The level and regularity of stress being reported is of major concern because increasing stress results in greater anxiety and being more exhausted. Under such circumstances people’s mental health and well-being is being put at risk, while increasing the likelihood of errors being made. It becomes a vicious cycle leading to even greater levels of stress and anxiety.
We have uncovered at least one health service that has identified increased absenteeism resulting from increased work stress and injury. If someone has to take personal leave because of workload related stress they are in a very real sense injured by that stress.
The Union’s research is also supported by the independent research conducted by RMIT University into the state of rostering for medical laboratories. While that research looks at medical scientists’ rosters, it highlights the stress and anxiety members feel as workloads increase in the face of chronic understaffing.
There is also the fact that there is little acknowledgement or even basic awareness of the huge importance that you play in health care. It’s particularly concerning when the Victorian Health Minister fails to acknowledge all health workers rather than just the usual suspects. We know it can be quite demoralising to work hard and diligently while not receiving the thanks and gratitude that is very well deserved.
It is clear to me that whilst members don’t crave fame and media recognition, there is a degree of understandable cynicism about health service executives always praising the work a some high profile classifications with no recognition for the complex clinical work our classifications perform.
This lack of recognition adds to the sense that members are not held in the same regard as other health workers despite the absolutely fundamental necessity of the roles our members play in the care of patients.
In August, as part of National Science Week, the Union will be publicly celebrating the work of our scientists, pharmacists, audiologists and dietitians. And in November the Union will celebrate the work of psychologists as part of National Psychology Week. It’s the least we can do to make sure that our members are better recognised for the roles they play in delivering Victorians world-class healthcare despite the enormous workloads and ongoing health and well-being concerns.
It is pleasing that the Victorian Government has recognised the need to do more to protect workers, including their mental health but this recognition has not yet translated into policies and processes in our workplaces to ensure our mental health is adequately protected. However with the Royal Commission into Mental Health, there is a great opportunity to influence how mental health is dealt with in Victoria and that has to be extended to the workplace. The Union strongly encourages all members to make submissions to the Royal Commission to ensure that workplace mental health is equally considered; and it’s a chance to advocate the need to do more in our workplaces to protect every workers’ mental health and well-being.
You can make your submission to the Royal Commission into Mental Health by visiting https://rcvmhs.vic.gov.au/submissions
If you want more information about the Royal Commission visit https://rcvmhs.vic.gov.au/