DHB data shows scale of staffing shortages in mental health services

5:34 pm on 1 September 2020

New figures released by Counties Manukau Health under the Official Information Act show its Mental Health and Addiction department has a staffing shortage of 121 positions.

Press conference at Middlemore discussing burns patients from the Whakaari/White Island  eruption.  Pictured is Dr John Kenealy, the Clinical Director of Surgery and Perioperative Services at Middlemore Hospital.

File image. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

It comes at a time when demand for such services is high because of Covid-19, with people facing greater financial strain due to unemployment, limited ability to cope with new norms and the fall-out from family violence.

Counties Manukau Health chief executive Fepulea'i Margie Apa said it was working hard on addressing staffing problems.

"Counties Manukau Health's Mental Health and Addictions division is short 121 positions out of a department total of 723 positions," Apa said.

Fepulea’i Margie Apa has been appointed Chief Executive Officer for Counties Manukau District Health Board, effective 3 September.

Fepulea'i Margie Apa. Photo: CMDHB - https://countiesmanukau.health.nz/about-us/news-and-publications/media-releases/new-ceo-for-counties-manukau-dhb/

"It is acknowledged within the mental health sector that there is a national shortage of registered mental health staff, in particular within nursing. A key emerging workforce challenge is the move to provide more mental health services in social services, some NGOs, primary care, correctional facilities and education."

She said it had taken several steps with the aim of addressing the recruitment and retention challenges within the nursing workforce.

That included taking on more recently graduated nurses as part of the New Entry to Specialty Practice - Mental Health and Addiction (NESP) programme, taking on 27 graduates as part of the scheme in 2020.

It was also casting the net further afield to find the right people.

"We are currently working with two external overseas agencies to bring Registered Nurses to NZ on 12-month locum contracts. We have temporarily moved staff from other areas to support services with high vacancies."

Apa said it had also offered permanent roles to clinicians who were overseas.

"The majority of them have had delayed start dates which have been primarily due to Covid-19 related issues. These clinicians are from the nursing, psychology, and medical professions and are from the UK, USA and South Africa," she said.

"We also advocate nationally and locally to support and to develop the growth of Mental Health Registered Nurses."

Counties Manukau Health employs more than 7500 staff and provides healthcare and support services for about 569,400 people living in the Counties Manukau region.

The workforce shortages in Mental Health and Addiction services were highlighted in a report to last month's Counties Manukau District Health Board's Hospital Advisory Committee which stated:

"Across the CM Health Mental Health and Addiction division there continues to be areas with significant workforce recruitment and retention issues. Intake and assessment is another team that is experiencing high vacancies and is working to ensure an acute response is able to be provided across CM Health.

"Although there has been a significant improvement in the staffing numbers, which has assisted with team morale and service delivery, it is important to acknowledge that a number of the new staff are relatively junior in their career."

Meanwhile, work on the final stage of Middlemore Hospital's new $67.5m mental health unit has been completed, but the official opening remains on hold while Counties Manukau Health deals with the latest outbreak of Covid-19.

A Counties Manukau Health spokesperson said they did not have a date set for the unveiling.

"Construction of Tiaho Mai Stage 2 has been completed and we hope to transition patients into the new facility over the coming weeks," they said. "Plans for an official opening are on hold while the focus remains on Covid-19."

Tiaho Mai will have the capacity to accommodate up to 76 patients.

no metadata

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs