ASMS

We are the union for salaried doctors and dentists.

We promote, protect and support the interests of our members in all aspects of their working lives. We are working for an equitable, accessible public health care system that meets the needs of all New Zealanders.

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Ten-year mental health plan could prove a long wait

22 September 2021 ASMS Media Release

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Toi Mata Hauora is greeting a new plan to improve mental health with cautious optimism but warns ten years could prove a very long wait.

The Government has announced a ten-year strategy – Kia Manawanui – to set goals on mental health and support the delivery of mental health services.

ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton says the explosion in demand for specialist mental health services has deepened a crisis which requires urgent action.

A recent ASMS report What Price Mental Health? pointed out that the number of inpatient mental health beds per population has fallen by nearly 10% in the past five years. DHBs frequently exceed 100% occupancy for mental health inpatient beds, when 85% occupancy is considered clinically safe.

“One psychiatrist recently told me he dreaded being on call in the weekends because there is nowhere safe to put the numbers of seriously ill patients. It’s a bleak situation and so many frontline staff report they are at breaking point,” Sarah Dalton says.

New Zealand also has very low numbers of practising psychiatrists per capita. Most DHBs are carrying major psychiatry staffing vacancies and overseas-trained psychiatrists are relied on to fill the gaps.

Part of the Government’s plan will put a welcome focus on workforce development.

“We would expect to have input into that and would like to see a workforce census established so we know exactly where the staffing gaps are,” Sarah Dalton says.

“The fact psychiatry is the second bottom choice for New Zealand medical school graduates is telling. We need to make it a more appealing pathway by showing value for our mental health workers and improving their working conditions”.

No mention is made in the Government’s strategy of more investment in mental health facilities which Sarah Dalton describes as disappointing given so many of our mental health wards and buildings are old, cramped and no longer fit-for-purpose.