Michelle Lensink

Peer Specialists a worry in mental health wards

The Government program which is currently recruiting people who have suffered from psychosis to work as ‘Peer Specialists’ in mental health wards in South Australian hospitals is of major concern to mental health professionals, Shadow Minister for Mental Health Michelle Lensink said today.

“The Rann Government is currently recruiting people who have suffered from psychosis to work as Peer Specialists with people who are suffering from similar disorders.

“According to the Job and Person Specification obtained by my office, these Peer Specialists are to work with mental health staff in a role which,

‘plans and evaluates educational groups for consumers’ and ‘serves as a positive role model to consumers and as a source of information on their personal experience of managing mental illness.’

“I have been advised by sources that the role of a Peer Specialist is causing some mental health workers great concern as they feel that they are already stretched too far and that the funding allocated could have been better spent upgrading facilities or providing extra nurses and psychologists.

“The Peer Specialist are ultimately working as de facto psychologist and this is of great concern, especially when these people have not been advised in the Job Specification of any tertiary or formal training needed for the job.

“In the Job and Person Specification it states that part of the role is to;

‘…assist with consumers understanding of the role of medication in managing symptoms.’

“It’s a potential service of conflict to have untrained individuals giving advice to patients, especially existing mental health staff are overworked and understaffed with inadequate time to provide supervision.

“When questioned about training that would be needed to be a Peer Specialist, Gail Gago stated;

‘They actually do receive training and it’s training over a 12 month period’ (5AA, 15/08/06)

However later in the interview Gail Gago stated that;

‘Well, I…just to take up the issue there is…it is…training is provided. It’s a six week accredited program.’ (5AA, 15/08/06)

“Obviously Minister Gago has no idea about what kind of training is expected or is given to those who are hired as Peer Specialists.

“While I understand that the knowledge of someone who has suffered from Psychosis may be of some assistance with advice for those who are unwell, I do not understand how these people can be expected to be hired as quasi-psychologist without any training. It opens up the system to some big risks.

“I believe that the Rann Government has typically once again made ad hoc decisions without thinking through what implications may result from this program.

“What I am sure much of the community would like to know from Minister Gago is why they chose to spend $1 million funding this program when that money is so desperately needed in other areas of mental health.”

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