Tasmanian mental health workers protest job cuts

Mental health workers protest in Hobart, October 11. Photo: Sylvie Crawford

About 70 mental health clinicians and their supporters rallied outside the state government’s offices in Hobart on October 11 to call for the reversal of crippling budget cuts. The rally took place during Mental Health Week.

Unions say 42.5 frontline mental health positions have been lost or left vacant due to last year’s budget cuts. Most of these are frontline clinical positions, including case managers from the adult, child and youth and older person’s mental health community teams. Services are also compromised as clinicians are frequently not replaced when they take leave.

Child and Youth Mental Health Services therapist, Colleen MacSporran, told the rally that their Hobart service was running at 37% of adequate staffing levels.

Occupational therapists have been pulled out of all the state’s hospital inpatient wards, and other allied health positions have been cut. This means patients no longer have access to multi-disciplinary assessment and treatment at a time when they most need it.

Beds have also been reduced in the acute inpatient ward due to the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment, which has led to long emergency department waiting times, early discharges and higher readmission rates. Staff are also angry at having to use time-wasting data recording systems and called for the introduction of efficient electronic systems.

Andrew Wilkie, independent MP for Denison, helped secure a $325 million health rescue package from the federal government in June. This included $15.4 million for mental health.

But in an October 11 statement, Wilkie said: “There is no sign the state government is directing any of that towards frontline services or filling any of the 42.5 vacant positions’.

“At least one in five Tasmanians will suffer an episode of mental illness this year but still the state government has cut more than 40 full-time mental health positions. These workers must be reinstated and fast.”

Union members have voted to carry out work bans on administration duties until their concerns are addressed.

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