Mental Health Workforce Strategy

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (RC) recommended, as part of its final report, that the Department of Health develop, implement and maintain a Workforce Strategy and Implementation Plan by the end of 2021 (Recommendation 57).

The new Mental Health and Wellbeing Division of the Department has established a Workforce Advisory Group (WTAG) which is meeting at least meet monthly until December 2021, when the Workforce Strategy is due to be released.

The VPA is represented on WTAG.

The main issues that the Division is exploring to inform the workforce strategy are supply and demand issues for different disciplines; workplace safety; attraction and retention of clinicians in rural and regional Victoria; and workforce capability.

Helpfully the Commonwealth government has been doing work on a national mental health workforce strategy. A background paper and consultation paper were released in August 2021.

The national work referred to the following as important to the development of the mental health workforce strategy:

  • Identification of the competencies required to deliver care and the specifications of the occupations that are trained to perform these competencies is critical
  • Carers and consumers needs are more likely to be met if the mental health workforce perform roles which reflect their full scope of practice, together with the adoption of multi-disciplinary team approach (this is consistent with the views of the RC)
  • Definition of clear scopes of practice means that the mental health workforce can better respond to increases in demand for mental health services as there will be a much clearer view of which occupations are trained to provide which components of care
    • Employment conditions impact on attraction and retention of the mental health workforce
    • employment conditions vary considerably across occupations and employers in the mental health sector in terms of remuneration and employment stability.
    • where there is a lack of access to quality supervision, it impacts on employee satisfaction and willingness to stay within the mental health sector.
    • current service delivery contracts can limit access to continuing professional development (CPD) as they do not include funding for CPD or backfill for providers to release staff to attend training
    • insecurity of employment associated with short term contracts and low levels of remuneration can impact both the attraction and retention of the workforce.
    • access to opportunities for progression in level, role and responsibility is an important contributor to career satisfaction and retentions but varies across occupations
    • lack of employment security impacts negatively on retention (likely to be exacerbated if there is a move towards contract services to non-government providers as proposed by the RC). The federal strategy suggests aligning government funding across sectors to improve consistency of salaries
  • There is a need to develop a shared understanding of training pipelines, workforce needs and supports to support ground-up and top-down workforce planning
  • Strategies to strengthen the rural and remote mental health workforce include provision of PD and supervision, and student placements

Many of these findings are consistent with the RC’s findings and the issues we discussed in the recent VPA PD.

The Background paper states that the largest shortfall of mental health workforce is for psychologists and that there is a 7,787 FTE gap. The current psychology workforce is estimated to be only meeting 35% of the national target. The undersupply is across all geographies, but with the biggest shortfall of psychologists being in rural and regional areas.

The VPA has stressed the following issues:

  • psychologists being able to work to their scope of practice; identification of competencies of the workforce; implementing true multidisciplinary teams as opposed to generic case management
  • problematic training pipeline for endorsed psychologists including the closure of some Masters courses – e.g. neuropsychology, possibly forensic; linking to supply
  • employment issues associated with contracting out including matching public sector salaries; time for professional development and supervision to be mandated in any contracts with NGOs or private providers
  • appointment of a Chief Psychologist to the Department

Members’ comments are welcome –

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