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Mental Health and Wellbeing – Workforce Strategy

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Monday, 6 June 2022

Tags: Mental Health

Dr WOODRUFF - There are, undoubted, some very welcome investments in the Budget into mental health, there is no doubt about that.

I want to raise the issue of workforce development, which the sector is concerned about in understanding what the Budget means. The Budget came out after the bilateral, National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement was issued; it was issued a fortnight beforehand, so I assume that those commitments in the bilateral agreement are reflected in the Budget. The issue of workforce development is getting to be very critical - the shortage of qualified mental health workers in Tasmania. The rising costs of employing people and living costs are just compounding the issue.

My question is: given that lack of investment from your Budget in workforce development and given the bilateral agreements commitments to what is going to be delivered in terms of largely community-based mental health initiatives, how are they going to be administered by Tasmanians without money into workforce strategy? I understand that it is the state's responsibility to deal with the funding of workforce issues.

Mr ROCKLIFF - Thank you for the question. The next few years will see major, systemic reform that will have a significant impact on our current services and how we support our consumers into the future, including a considerable growth in clinical positions. We are very pleased to be expanding our mental health workforce and this is a critical investment to support the delivery of quality services that ensure Tasmanians have access to the treatment and care they need.

To grow the workforce, including the lived experience workforce, there will be continued and concerted recruitment and retention activity, and a focus on workforce development. These options include the introduction of a number of developmental positions, such as assistant in nursing, transition to practice nurses, and entry level positions for allied health professionals and the service consistently advertised as vacant positions interstate and overseas.

The TTP program supports new graduate nurses into statewide mental health services and aims to support nurses to go on and complete their postgraduate diploma and mental health nursing via the provision of fully sponsored and supported training. The number of positions under this TTP program across the state has been increased from 24 to 49 positions in 2022, an increase of some 25 positions.

The service supports student placements for social work, psychology, medical and nursing. The Government has recently agreed to support a market retention allowance for psychiatrists. There is a dedicated staff member within the mental health reform program who works exclusively on recruitment and can provide extra assistance to interstate and international inquiries. We are also excited to be supporting the growth of mental health peer workforce. The mental health peer workforce coordinator has recently been appointed, based at the Mental Health Council of Tasmania, which is good, and is working to implement actions under the peer workforce development strategy and establish Tasmania's youth peer worker model.

Peer workers, with their personal lived experiences, hold an important level of knowledge and understanding as they provide advice and hope to both consumers and carers on their own mental health journeys. Importantly, a key action of the Rethink 2020 Implementation Plan is to develop a joint workforce development strategy with public, private primary and community sectors, along with education and training providers. This work will commence later this year.

We are also investing some $5 million to expand the health hub at TasTAFE's Alanvale site to include a new facility that will deliver training and workforce development for workers in the alcohol and other drug, mental health and youth sectors.

Mr WEBSTER - Through you, Premier, in addition, the state Budget funds a number of allied health education positions within the agency, which is to support the uplift in courses for physiotherapy, speech pathology and occupational therapy at UTAS, with two of those degrees starting this year and a third next year. Those positions will facilitate the placement of those students and hopefully facilitate the long term staying of these students in our state. So, that's another initiative as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is all very important but I think you confirmed my question by the answer. Almost everything of what you've said was to do with the state mental health services. My question was about the community organisations and the concern in the sector, from the community organisations that will have a large footprint of responsibility in the bilateral agreement to deliver the services, is that there is no money in the Budget for that. I think you mentioned talking about it with the sector later in the year. That is good, but where is the financial commitment over the forward Estimates to workforce development training?

Mr ROCKLIFF - We have supported the Mental Health Council of Tasmania with funding to monitor and collect data on the impacts of COVID-19 in the community mental health sector workforce over the last 18 months. The Mental Health Council of Tasmania has released the COVID-19 Impacts on the Community Mental Health Workforce Report, which is informing our Government's ongoing planning and response supporting the mental health and wellbeing of Tasmanians.

The report demonstrates that the pandemic has exacerbated many pre-existing challenges facing the community mental health workforce in Tasmania. There will be a focus on addressing the key priorities. Immediate actions required from the report include: integrated workforce planning to support recruitment and retention; prevention and early intervention measures to address increased service demand; upskilling and diversifying the mental health workforce; fostering and supporting the wellbeing of staff; equipping mental health services to respond to ongoing COVID 19 impacts, and data collection and monitoring to inform an effective response. These actions have been mapped against our Government's Rethink 2020 Implementation Plan to ensure that they are a priority in our shared approach with the community sector, public health system and primary care.

Mr WEBSTER - The bilateral is not reflected in the state Budget because the timing of the bilateral was too late for the state Budget.

Dr WOODRUFF - Really? It's being negotiated.

Mr WEBSTER - That's right. But until it's signed, it's not money that can go in a state budget. That's the first thing. The second thing is that Primary Health Tasmania will be the primary funding source from the bilateral to the community sector. The CEO of Primary Health Tasmania had already met with the department with a view to setting up a joint approach to workforce development in relation to the bilateral.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. The Rethink 2020-2025 Implementation Plan has a reform direction 3 and, particularly, direction 9, which is about supporting and developing our workforce. That's not related to the bilateral agreement. Where is the money in the Budget to implement that part of the Rethink 2020-2025 Implementation Plan?

Mr WEBSTER - The general workforce development work happening within statewide mental health services is not just focused on mental health services. The work that has been done by the Mental Health Council and the ATDC informs us, but also the work we're doing jointly with primary care because we acknowledge that in a state of our size we can't be competing for the same workforce. We advertise a job, take one from them, they advertise and take it, so we need a joint approach. It doesn't require an additional funding line; it requires the cooperation across the services to make sure the efforts we're making are actually benefiting the entire service.