14 Nov 2006 questionsarchive

A question put forward to the Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse) in relation to the SASMOA dispute over the psychiatrists award.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse a question about the SASMOA dispute over the psychiatrists award.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Members of the South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association (otherwise known as SASMOA) are suffering considerable distress at the rates of their pay. Indeed, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Mental Health Coalition, in a press release of 21 September in response to the budget, identified that staff recruitment and retention is one of the key areas that need to be addressed. My questions to the minister are:

1. Can she advise the council as to whether a medical workforce reference group is actually looking at specialist recruitment and retention in this area?

2. Can she report any of those initiatives?

3. Does the minister consider that there are adequate salaried psychiatrists’ positions in the public mental health system to manage demand?

4. What does the minister consider to be an acceptable ratio between psychiatrists and acute mental health beds?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse): I thank the honourable member for her important questions. Obviously, this matter is before the Industrial Commission and negotiations are currently in play so it would not be proper for me to comment on that, or say anything that might be prejudicial to the outcome of those proceedings. I would like to remind people that the Salaried Medical Officers Enterprise Agreement was approved in September 2005 and expires on 14 April 2008, and it provides for a range of salary increases for consultants of approximately 14 per cent over three years; additional professional development leave and reimbursement of expenses associated with leave, up to $4 000 per annum; and significant increases to on-call allowances based upon frequency. The new Visiting Medical Specialists Agreement was signed on 2 June 2006 and is operative until 2009. It provided for a 30 per cent increase in hourly rates and also a number of other provisions as well.

In relation to psychiatrists, their numbers have increased since 2000. Recent psychiatrist recruitment to the Central Northern Adelaide Health Service and Southern Adelaide Health Service has resulted in the employment of extra staff in 2005-06. In terms of consultant psychiatrists, the change from 2001-02 to 2004-05 is 68 to 70.7; psychiatric registrars, 99 to 103.1 (I am not too sure what 0.1 of a psychiatrist looks like); and other medical officers, 22 to 22.4.

To compare the other jurisdictions, it is necessary to compare doctor’s numbers per head of population. That is a very important matter to consider. You cannot just look at isolated numbers; you must look at the overall picture. The latest available data from the National Health Report for 2002-03 indicated that in South Australia there are 12.2 medical officers in the specialist system per 100 000 population. This is the highest rate of any state. I would like to emphasise that: this rate is the highest of any state. Next comes Western Australia with 12 and Victoria with 10.5, and the national average is 9.7.

Information obtained from the College of Psychiatrists late last year was that there were 204 psychiatrists in total in South Australia. It was estimated that about 140 were in private practice which, again, is consistent with national figures. In 2005 there was a major issue of filling vacant positions; however, Health Services reports that it is now having more success recruiting psychiatrists, and it is also waiting for information about final numbers from the SA postgraduate training program. In terms of recruitment and the retention of mental health professionals, overall, as I said, you cannot look at these in isolation. There have obviously been many challenges, not just here in South Australia but also nationally. It is also consistent with some trends overseas.

I will go through some of the initiatives that we have undertaken, including recruiting from overseas with a specific focus on mental health through BMJ Careers Fair, Opportunities Australia Expo, the Working Down Under Expo, and liaison with UK recruitment agencies. Hudsons Global Resources Australia Proprietary Limited, an international recruitment firm, was engaged as a consultant to identify the location of possible nursing and other allied health professions to provide salary information on mental health professions in other markets, and to provide employment and market trends for mental health professionals in targeted locations. As for the final report—I was asked what the exact numbers are—I am expecting that from Hudsons fairly soon.

A project officer has also been appointed within the mental health unit to bring together strategies to deal with mental health workforce issues with a focus on strategies for recruitment and retention to meet the needs associated with current and future mental health workforce needs. Obviously, further retention strategies are being developed to complement those recruitment strategies. An initial focus for this position has been on the progress of recruitment against the $10 million initiatives. In terms of the other outstanding questions that the honourable member asked, I am happy to take those on notice and bring back a response.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I have a supplementary question. Can the minister advise the number of vacancies for psychiatrists in the public health system? From the list that she read out to us, what benefits were directed towards those employed under the staff specialist award?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I am happy to take the question on notice and bring back a response.