Psychiatrists looking for the exits

2 minute read

Over a third of the nation’s shrinks are making plans to leave the profession if shortages aren’t addressed.

A nationwide survey of 1269 psychiatrists conducted by the RANZCP shows about 90% believe workforce shortages are a threat to patient care, and between 30% and 40% are considering leaving the profession in the next five years.

In New South Wales alone, 94% of 367 respondents said patients were being negatively impacted by the shortages, while 74% reported experiencing multiple symptoms of burnout in the past three years.

Additionally, 30% of the state’s psychiatrists are considering throwing in the towel in the next five years.

In Western Australia and South Australia, that number jumps to 41% and 40% respectively.

Chair of the NSW branch of the RANZCP, Dr Angelo Virgona, said that the findings underscored the severity of the workforce shortage crisis in the state’s mental health system.

“It is not just the public sector, where there has been an ongoing drain of psychiatrists, but also the private sector, with closed books and long waiting lists,” he said.

“Private hospitals provide about half the admissions for mental health disorders in Australia, but many are currently at risk of closure due to psychiatry shortages.

“As a result, patients are having to navigate an overburdened mental healthcare system and are often met with closed doors everywhere.

“The system is so fragmented that you have to be a genius or lucky to figure out how and where to get help.

“Some of our most vulnerable people with acute mental illnesses then fall through the cracks because help is too far away, too long a wait, too expensive or, for people in the bush, simply unavailable.

“And the workforce shortage has placed an unsustainable burden on psychiatrists in the system. Hence the burnout as seen in our survey … We are often having to provide less than optimal care because the range of interventions just can’t be provided, aren’t available to the bulk of the country or both.

“We don’t have time to liaise with other health providers, and patients can’t access enough of the therapy they need due to cost or lack of practitioners.”

Dr Virgona said the federal and NSW governments needed to work together to ensure that the mental health services in NSW were adequately resourced, with targeted and sustainable investment in the psychiatry workforce.

He said the college expected the May Budget to include dedicated funding to improve the psychiatry workforce and training pipeline in the state.

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