Tasmania's mental health services on the brink of collapse

25 Apr 2021



AMA Tasmania received a letter signed by sixteen psychiatrists last week.  

We immediately contacted the Secretary of Health and Deputy Secretary overseeing Mental Health seeking a meeting to discuss the serious concerns raised in that correspondence. 

We will be meeting later this week with the Deputy Secretary. 

AMA Tasmania has warned for some time about the problems within Mental Health.  

Our Mental Health services are on the brink of collapse. 

It is patients who are suffering as they struggle to access the necessary service they require in the community. 

And it is our emergency department who are bearing the brunt of the problems, with some patients waiting days in our EDs before being able to be admitted to an inpatient bed. 

The pressure on doctors is immense. They work within a highly stressful environment, and they have had enough. 

This is evidenced by the fact sixteen psychiatrists have signed an extraordinary letter.  

It takes a lot for doctors to put pen to paper. It is important that we all listen.  

There is no point announcing more funding for new programs if you cannot retain your existing doctors, let alone recruit new ones.  

There is something critically wrong with the existing culture when around 12 staff specialists have left the system over the past three years. 

There is something critically wrong with the existing workload, when staff specialists are driven to work part-time because a full-time load is unsustainable, and they are breaking. 

There is something critically wrong when your workforce is so heavily locum reliant - in forensic mental health, it is totally locum dependent – because you cannot recruit permanent doctors. 

And there is something critically wrong with the existing service when Senior Psychiatric Registrars who have completed their training locally choose to pursue careers as Staff Specialists elsewhere. 

The doctors speak of not feeling valued or supported by Mental Health management.  

They speak of not feeling trusted to work within their scope of practice and they are crying out for a safe and supportive environment in which to work. 

As it is, the service is so understaffed, many doctors have had their leave applications refused because patient care would be compromised 

No amount of money in new services will help to change this culture. No amount of reform will succeed unless we start listening to our doctors. 

AMA Tasmania supports the doctors calling for an independent inquiry to be immediately established into Mental Health Services to address the fundamental concerns raised in this correspondence. 

That inquiry needs to review the working conditions and salaries of psychiatrists compared to their interstate counterparts to ensure that we are competitive.  

It is also fundamental it provides recommendations to assist in helping to address the cultural issues.  

There is wide support for the reform of Mental Health Services in Tasmania being pursued by the government, however, if we don’t start listening and supporting our doctors, there will not be enough doctors left in the system to run the re-designed services and it will fail. >>>ENDS 

Published: 25 Apr 2021