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Workforce: the ‘heart’ of future mental health system

Workforce: the ‘heart’ of future mental health system

Premier Daniel Andrews and former Mental Health Minister James Merlino speaking to media about the release of the final report. Premier Andrews promised to implement all recommendations. (AAP Image/Luis Ascui)

Supporting the mental health workforce, including nurses, will be at the heart of rebuilding Victoria’s mental health system.

The mental health royal commission has nominated three areas for workforce reform: workforce strategy and planning; workforce capability development; and support for the safety and wellbeing of the workforce.

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System made 65 sweeping recommendations in its final report, released in March, and nine in its October 2019 interim report.

The reforms are design to transform a ‘broken’ system into integrated mental health services focused on compassion, prevention, wellness and recovery.

The royal commission said the ambitious reforms will require a properly supported, resourced and staffed workforce.

In lieu of any comprehensive state or federal mental health workforce data, the commission’s own research found nurses comprised the largest component of the workforce at 22 per cent, followed by psychologists.

It noted the system was facing a critical nurse shortage particularly in rural and regional Victoria with negative consequences for both the community and the workforce.

Based on the National Mental Health Services Planning Framework data, the royal commission predicted a shortfall of 1387 nurses by 2035-36.

If the current and future workforce is to be able to ‘consistently deliver high quality treatment, care and support in sustainable ways, systemic pressures on them—such as workforce shortages—need to be urgently resolved’.

To secure the appropriate workforce ‘pipeline’, the royal commission said it was essential the Victorian Government worked ‘closely and in partnership’ with the Commonwealth Government, professional bodies, unions, employers and other organisations.

Future workforce planners will also need to understand the current workforce is traumatised by the consequences of trying to care for people in a system that had defaulted to caring only for those in crisis.

While rewarding work, the royal commission acknowledged ‘that working in mental health and delivering high quality services to consumers can often be complex and emotionally draining.’ Mental health workers reported experiencing low morale.

The royal commission said workforce shortages, a lack of workplace supports, and a crisis model negatively impacted mental health workers ability to deliver compassionate and person-centred care. It had also reduced workers’ capacity to use their skills to deliver therapeutic care.

Key workforce recommendations

Recommendation 57
Workforce strategy, planning and structural reform

Ensure the range of expanded mental health and wellbeing services is delivered by diverse, multidisciplinary mental health and wellbeing workforce of the necessary size and composition across Victoria.

By the end of 2021, enable the Department of Health to conduct ongoing workforce data collection, analysis and planning.

By the end of 2023, implement and support structural workforce reforms to attract, train and transition staff to deliver the core functions of the new services.

Recommendation 58
Workforce capabilities and professional development

The Department of Health, by the end of 2021, to define the knowledge, skills and attributes required of a diverse, multidisciplinary mental health and wellbeing workforce.

Develop a Victorian Mental Health and Wellbeing Workforce Capability Framework and detail the approach to capability development across the mental health and wellbeing workforce as part of the workforce strategy and implementation plan.

Enable the Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing to coordinate learning and professional development.

Recommendation 59
Workforce safety and wellbeing

By the end of 2021, establish an ongoing committee to address occupational health and safety needs, co-chaired by the Department of Health and

WorkSafe Victoria that will identify, monitor and address existing physical safety and wellbeing risks as well as those that may emerge throughout the reform process.

This committee is also tasked with developing tailored monitoring approaches for the psychological health and safety of staff in the mental health and wellbeing workforce.