Announced in December 2021 by the Andrews Government, Victoria’s new Mental Health and Wellbeing Workforce Strategy 2021–2024 sets out a strategic approach to deliver the ‘diverse, skilled and multidisciplinary workforce’ necessary to realise the vision for reform laid out in the final report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.
Of particular note to members is that the Mental Health and Wellbeing Workforce Strategy 2021–2024 prioritises strategies aimed at stabilising the system now – such as committing $41 million in extra funding to immediately deliver more than 350 jobs across the system state-wide, inclusive of 40 new enrolled nurses and eight new mental health nurse educators.
It is part of, and builds on, the Andrews Government’s ongoing $269 million commitment to mental health workforce reforms, which includes:
- $70 million to support up to 120 graduate mental health nurses and supporting nurse educators annually
- $12.2 million for a training program for experienced allied health and nurse clinicians to transition into mental health, with up to 50 nurses and 30 allied health training positions and supporting educator roles funded
- $4.6 million for a new enrolled nurse pipeline, with 40 enrolled nurses and eight educators to be trained in mental health in 2022
- $3.7 million to attract people to mental health careers
- $1.3 million for up to 70 postgraduate scholarships, including 20 AOD practitioners in 2022 to undertake postgraduate training .
Principles and priorities
The strategy sets out four key priorities for the future of Victoria’s mental health workforce, and five principles to guide the design and delivery of the workforce reforms.
The four priorities
- Building workforce supply
- Building workforce skills, knowledge and capabilities
- Supporting the safety, wellbeing and retention of the mental health and wellbeing workforce
- Building system enablers for excellence in the workforce.
The five principles
- Sustainable and responsible approaches to system growth
- Culture of partnership, collaboration and innovation
- Treatment, care and support is provided by diverse, multidisciplinary teams
- Reforms support workforce opportunities and satisfaction
- Working environments are supportive, safe and rewarding.
Structural and systemic change required
ANMF (Vic Branch) welcomes the strategy, believing its priorities and principles to be largely aligned to members’ concerns and needs. The immediate funding is particularly important, and allows for much-needed initiatives such as the additional allocations for enrolled nurses and educators into the system. But while it looks good on paper, there is more work to be done and large structural and systemic change needs to occur.
One example is the strategy’s focus on staff wellbeing and burnout without an equivalent focus on occupational violence and aggression (OVA) and safety. And whilst it is critical to focus on increasing the supply of workers into mental health, there also needs to be a strong focus on retaining current mental health nurses in the system. For instance, members are continually reporting that the burden of unnecessary documentation – which takes mental health nurses away from the bedside and reduces their ability to work with consumers, families and supporters – contributes to poor job satisfaction and retention issues.
‘We know that nurses choose to go into mental health to provide safe and compassionate care to consumers within a recovery model. The endless paperwork takes them away from this purpose and is part of the substantive change in practice that we need to see as part of this critical reform period,’ said ANMF Victoria Assistant Branch Secretary Madeleine Harradence.
Victorian mental health and wellbeing workforce capability framework
As part of the strategy, the Victorian mental health and wellbeing workforce capability framework sets out the skills, knowledge and ways of working that will be required of the evolving mental health workforce.
This first iteration of the capability framework represents the beginning of a ten-year reform journey. It will be reviewed and revised every couple of years to keep pace with the evolving needs of the Victorian mental health system, and its workforce.
Designed to sit alongside professional discipline and service-specific capability frameworks, the capability framework includes three core components:
1. Safe and supportive working environments
The capability framework recognises that a safe and supportive working environment is the foundation and prerequisite for all members of the workforce to use their existing capabilities effectively.
The seven Principles guide the practice of all those who work in or interact with the mental health and wellbeing system – regardless of setting, role or level of specialisation.
- all practice is responsive to the needs of individuals
- all practice is understanding of individuals in their context
- all practice is strengths-based and wellbeing-oriented
- all practice is trauma-informed and responsive
- all practice is culturally safe and diversity responsive
- all practice is ethical and grounded in human rights
- all practice is respectful, compassionate and collaborative.
Collectively, the 15 Capabilities outline the knowledge and skills required to deliver safe and effective care, support and treatment in the Victorian mental health and wellbeing system.
- embedding responsible, safe and ethical practice
- working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers, families, supporters and communities
- working with diverse consumers, families and communities
- understanding and responding to trauma
- understanding and responding to mental health crisis and suicide
- understanding and responding to substance abuse and addiction
- understanding and responding to family violence
- working effectively with families, carers and supporters
- delivering holistic and collaborative assessment and care planning
- delivering compassionate care, support and treatment
- promoting prevention, early intervention and help-seeking
- supporting navigation, partnerships and collaborative care
- enabling reflective and supportive ways of working
- embedding evidence-informed continuous improvement
- working effectively with digital technologies.