Mental health patients are concerned about the quality of services and the consequences that may arise if Queensland psychiatrists in the public sector resign because of disputes over new contracts.
‘Buddha’, 39, has been battling mental illness with the help of his doctor for over five months.
He said even though it’s only been five months, the only reason he’s back on his feet is because of the trust he’s built with his doctor.
“My psychiatrist and I have got a really good relationship, he’s made me a functional person in society again,” he said.
“If doctors in the public mental health system do resign, I think it will be a really bad thing on society.
President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Dr Murray Patton says people being treated for mental illness in the public hospital system are one of the most vulnerable patient groups.
He agrees with Buddha, saying patients are at a time of significant distress and opening up and developing a trusting relationship with a particular psychiatrist, is hard to do with another.
“[Patients] will be most evidently concerned about that loss of direct one-to-one treatment relationship that they have with their consultant,” he said.
“It is deeply concerning that they are the ones who will suffer as a result of any decrease in psychiatrists in the Queensland Health System.
“In the absence of senior psychiatrists, there is a risk that consumers may not be adequately monitored.
Buddha said his doctor has spoken of leaving the public sector over the dispute and is concerned the change could upset his treatment.
He said if his doctor moves into private practice, the financial burden may cause further stress.
“I don’t know if I could trust another psychiatrist,” he said.
“It’s a hard thing, psychiatrists are like medication, you can’t just pick anyone, you’ve got to find the right one and I’ve found the right one.
“It’s upsetting me in the way that it could change my treatment, and it’s important to me and not just me, but also the people around me.
Dr Patton says the goodwill of all health specialists, especially those in the public sector, should not be exploited.
“I think to have that goodwill taken advantaged of by arrangements that really are not the sort of arrangements that psychiatrists have necessarily expected to work with – the issue of fairness – I think that is of concern,” he said.
A spokesman for Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said the resignation strategy advanced by unions would harm services in the Queensland Health facilities.
“While unions proceed with their mass resignation campaign, Queensland health will prepare contingencies to protect the interests of patients,” he said.
The spokesman said individual contracts and amendments have been presented for doctors to consider.
“The government has accommodated all requests from doctors’ groups in recent talks.
Doctors have until April 30 to consider and sign the contracts.
This article first appeared on ‘The Age’ on 13 April 2014.