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New survey says almost half of psychiatrists would quit if they could

Danny Watson 26/11/2021

LISTEN: A new survey has painted a grim picture of medical professionals working the frontline in mental health services.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) report, released on Friday, reveals 45 percent of psychiatrists would like to quit their job.

It comes as demand for their services soars.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists director of policy and research Dr Charlotte Chambers said psychiatrists are the doctors who deal with people's mental health problems.

"They are basically a cornerstone for the mental health team," she told Magic Talk.

"There are many different ways to show that the mental health system is overwhelmed at the moment and so we wanted to focus on how the psychiatrists themselves are coping in the face of this huge demand for their services."

The report Inside the Frontline of the Mental Health Crisis details the stresses and challenges facing the country’s psychiatrists. 368 psychiatrists took part in the survey.

Dr Chambers said the survey was conducted before the latest COVID-19 Delta outbreak.

"So we suspect that the trends that we found are actually going to be worse," she said.

Some of the key findings are:

  • 45 percent agree they would leave their current job if they could
  • 95 percent report an increase in demand for specialist mental health services in the past three years
  • 86 percent report an increase in the complexity of their caseload
  • 76 percent report an increase in the size of their caseload
  • 87 percent don’t feel they are working in a well-resourced mental health service
  • 35 percent report high levels of burnout

The report lays down a challenge for the new national health employer Health NZ to ensure staffing rates are adequate in mental health services across the country, including nurses, psychologists and counsellors, and that buildings and infrastructure are fit-for-purpose.

“The emphasis in this report on the impact of poor physical work environments, absence of functional IT systems and logistical challenges to complete the simplest of tasks is not going to improve doctor wellbeing or health outcomes for mental health patients,” Dr Chambers said.

But there are also warning bells over recruitment and retention of psychiatrists and the desperate need for succession and workforce planning.

“It is concerning that a number of mental health services do not employ trainee psychiatrists, and New Zealand’s high reliance on foreign-trained psychiatrists points to an urgent need to address medical pipeline planning. We need to encourage medical students to consider psychiatry as a sound option for their specialist training.

“We know COVID is creating even more challenges. The mental health system can ill afford to lose any more doctors. Looking after psychiatrists is good for everyone’s mental health,” she said.

Listen to the full interview with Dr Charlotte Chambers above.

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