Fewer psychiatrists and mental health nurses are working in WA’s public health system now than two years ago when a review called for the workforce to be doubled.
Professor Bryant Stokes found mental health clinicians were “severely overstretched in almost all areas” and staffing levels were only about half of what they should be.
Despite Government promises to improve services after the damning Stokes report, important parts of WA’s mental health workforce have shrunk over the past two years.
The crisis has prompted WA psychiatrists to call an urgent meeting to discuss concerns about severe staff shortages which they say are putting mental health patients at risk.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists WA chairman Aaron Groves said there was an undercurrent of belief the situation had deteriorated since the release of the Stokes report.
“The severe shortage of trained and skilful staff leads to a situation where everyday psychiatrists go to work to see patients and do not have sufficient time to provide the level of care that is needed for that person,” Dr Groves said.
Department of Health figures show the number of public health psychiatrists fell by less than one full-time equivalent position to 134 in the 18 months after the Stokes review’s release in November 2012.
The number of enrolled mental health nurses fell 10 per cent from November 2012 to June this year, while the use of agency nurses jumped 55 per cent.
Dr Groves said the suicide rate was rising at an alarming rate in WA against a national downward trend, and access to medical care had become more difficult in the past two years.
He said there was a high turnover of senior staff because morale had been at an all-time low for more than two years.
Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said recruitment was continuing in WA and overseas and 85 psychiatric registrars in the public system were training to be psychiatrists.
“Western Australia does have less general practitioners and private psychiatrists, which means that services are pushed on to the State that should be provided in the primary care sector,” she said.
Mrs Morton said overseas mental health professionals would only be recruited if they were qualified to the same high standard as Australian-trained staff.
This article first appeared on ‘The West Australian’ on 8 September 2014.