As part of the Andrews Government’s response to recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, Minister for Mental Health James Merlino recently announced a $23.6 million mental health nursing workforce package.
Designed to support the state’s mental health nurses by investing in more graduate positions as well as upskilling nurses with a postgraduate mental health scholarship program, the package targets Recommendation 7 of the royal commission, which addresses workforce shortages with educational and recruitment strategies.
Launching the new package, Mr Merlino said ‘the mental health workforce is the beating heart of our system – so we’re supporting nurses to continue delivering world-class treatment, care and support to every Victorian who needs it.’
Investing in graduate nurses
Among the strategies was the specification to fund an additional 120 annual graduate placements for nurses in public health services in areas of need. The new package goes above and beyond this recommendation, investing $18.6 million for an extra 150 full-time equivalent graduate mental health nurse positions, as well as 49 nurse educator positions across 18 public health services in 2022. This is on top of the 115 positions funded last year.
Regional Victoria has been earmarked to receive a third of the funded positions, with services including Albury Wodonga Health, Ballarat Health Service, Barwon Health, Bendigo Health, Goulburn Valley Health, Latrobe Regional Hospital, Mildura Base Hospital and South West Healthcare benefitting.
Extra nurse educator positions have also been funded for rural and regional services across the Grampians region in Ararat, Ballarat, Horsham and South West Healthcare. In addition, the mental health public sector EBA outcome will see the implementation of ANMF members’ claim for greater support for nurses undertaking the graduate program; this will be implemented with additional graduate support nurses.
The other part of the package sees the government investing $5.05 million in the Victorian Postgraduate Mental Health Nurse Scholarship program in 2021 and 2022. Earlier this year, scholarships were awarded to 124 nurses working in mental health settings across metropolitan and regional Victoria. There are 140 scholarships on offer for 2022.
Each scholarship covers the full course cost of a Graduate Diploma in Mental Health Nursing, or part of the cost of a Master of Mental Health Nursing.
‘These new scholarships will inspire more nurses to further their career in mental health, giving them more financial support in the workforce and helping them be better equipped to care for Victorians,’ Mr Merlino said.
The new package is part of the $206 million allocated in the 2021–22 Victorian Budget for the mental health workforce to help deliver effective care, treatment and support in the rebuild of Victoria’s mental health and wellbeing system.
ANMF recommended increases in mental health graduate positions and postgraduate scholarships in its submission to the mental health royal commission.
ANMF also offers $750,000 worth of fee grants for members undertaking postgraduate and registration nursing education, including in mental health. Fee grants cover up to 80 per cent of tuition fees. Applications open in January 2022.