26 Nov 2021

More psychiatrists considering leaving New Zealand due to working conditions - survey

5:39 am on 26 November 2021

A union representing senior medical doctors says almost half of its psychiatrists on the job are considering quitting as demand for their services soars.

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The survey found respondents reported 35 percent reported high levels of burnout. Photo: 123rf

More than 350 members, or 70 percent, responded to the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists' (ASMS) survey released today.

Report author and ASMS director of policy and research Dr Charlotte Chambers said members reported no meaningful change or improvement in the mental health sector since the 2018 inquiry into mental health and addiction.

"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," she said.

Members said their workload has ballooned - 95 percent said the demand for specialist mental health services had increased in the past three years - under poor conditions, with 87 percent saying they did not feel they were working in a well-resourced mental health service.

Of the respondents, 45 percent agreed they would leave their current job if they could and 35 percent reported high levels of burnout.

The report, Inside the Frontline of the Mental Health Crisis, also contained a selection of responses to the survey, which showed psychiatrists feared the lack of resources was impacting patient care.

"We often feel like patients are being discharged to the community to fail. This failure takes the form of

suicide, homicide, estrangement and homelessness," one said.

"When I look back on patient files, I am reminded how much care we could provide five, 10 and 15

years ago to specific patients compared to now," another commented.

"I love working with my clients/patients however the current system is unsustainable. We do not have

enough staff or resources to retain staff, the staff around me are burnt out," another said.

Dr Chambers said the survey also sounded the alarm over the number of new psychiatrists coming into the workforce.

International research suggests the number of trainees choosing to enter into psychiatry is declining and the current workforce is ageing, while the demand for mental health services climbs, the report said.

"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," Dr Chambers said.

"We need to encourage medical students to consider psychiatry as a sound option for their specialist training."

Dr Chambers challenged Health New Zealand, the new national health employer made up of the current 20 District Health Boards, to ensure there are enough mental health workers to meet demand.

The report's key findings:

  • 95 percent respondents 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
  • 45 percent agree they would leave their current job if they could
  • 87 percent do not feel they are working in a well-resourced mental health service
  • 35 percent report high levels of burnout

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