Mental health workers struggling to cope

RNZ National, 7 June 2016

Information released to RNZ National under the Official Information Act shows a 300 percent increase in crisis mental health referrals to Auckland District Health Board in the last five years. Other District Health Boards are also reporting significant increases.

Auckland mental health worker Andy Colwell says those working in the services nationwide report difficulties in coping with the rising demand.

Mr Colwell, who is also co-convenor of the Public Service Association’s mental health committee, said mental health workers throughout New Zealand reported in a recent survey that the rising demand was causing them to be stressed.

“There’s not enough staff, there’s insufficient psychiatrist cover, equipment is not up to standard, the number of calls are unmanageable, staff working both paid and unpaid overtime to complete the work, travel time is onerous, they don’t believe it has improved patient care.”

Some staff members said in the survey the workload was hard to sustain and expressed disillusionment. They wanted to leave district health board because of the amount of work they had to do.

One of the main pressure points is acute mental health inpatient units, which were almost always full, Mr Colwell said.

“People have to be discharged from hospital because people have to go into hospitals. So often decisions are made not just around clinical decisions but are made because of the fact that somebody actually has to leave hospital. So on some occasions you have to find the least unwell patient to leave hospital.”

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