For years doctors have complained about the serious underfunding of mental health services. The reason? Most people think it’s because performing more surgeries and cutting waiting times in emergency departments wins elections, while making sure someone with schizophrenia is properly supported and medicated in the community doesn’t. Today Fairfax Media revealed that the situation is reaching crisis point.
Doctors around the state cheered when the government, just after it was elected, allowed local health authorities more control over health services in their area. But the downside of the decision was that some areas with particularly stretched budgets have looked to mental health services to find savings. It’s almost impossible to close a hospital bed without serious political ramifications, doctors say. But leaving a community health worker position unfilled? That’s much easier to get away with. Doctors groups have become so worried by this trend they commissioned a survey, which more than half the state’s public hospital psychiatrists responded to, that paints a terrifying picture about the state of mental healthcare in NSW.
Doctors groups have become so worried by this trend they commissioned a survey, which more than half the state’s public hospital psychiatrists responded to, that paints a terrifying picture about the state of mental healthcare in NSW.
Insiders tell Fairfax Media it’s almost impossible to prove exactly how much money is “leaking” from mental health to other areas. But this graph tells part of the story. One-third of the doctors surveyed believe positions are deliberately held vacant, another 13 per cent say they were held open indefinitely. (Interestingly, the chart also hints at another big challenge facing health authorities: finding and recruiting staff qualified to do the job.)
Labor health spokesman Walt Secord says since coming into the health portfolio clinicians in the bush had raised cuts to mental health services as their No.1 concern.
“They are deeply troubled as they are powerless to help,” he said. “Local health districts – particularly rural and regional ones – are doing so by failing to fill positions or are replacing mental health workers with less qualified practitioners”.
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