8 March 2022
Haines outlines plan to attract mental healthcare workers to the regions
Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines has called on the Government to fix the critical shortage of mental health workers in regional Australia by offering to cancel the university debt of mental health workers who move to the regions.
Dr Haines said that the Government’s own data shows that it would take an additional 5000 psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health nurses to give regional people access to the same level of mental healthcare as people in the cities.
“Everywhere I travel in Indi, people talk to me about mental health. About the challenges they face in getting help for themselves or their loved ones when facing mental ill-health, and about the impact it has on them and their communities,” Dr Haines said.
“In most towns in Indi, it’s too hard to access mental healthcare. There are not enough psychologists, the wait lists are enormous, the cost is too high. If we want to address mental health in the regions, we need more mental health workers in the regions.”
Dr Haines’ proposal would offer university debt relief to qualified psychologists, social workers, mental health workers, and psychiatrists who work in rural and regional Australia.
The proposal mirrors a similar scheme announced by the Government in late 2021 targeting doctors and nurse practitioners. Haines argues that the Government’s policy should be expanded to tackle the mental health workforce shortage.
“People in the cities have nearly twice as many psychiatrists and psychologists per person than people living in the country. Regional Australia has about 28% of the Australian population but just 13% of all psychiatrists, 17% of all psychologists, 23% of all mental health nurses. We need to fix this inequity.
“I commend the Government for its debt-relief incentive scheme for doctors and nurse practitioners. But we face not only a shortage of physical health workers, but also a chronic shortage of mental health workers. This program should be extended to ensure we are looking after people’s mental health, as well as their physical health.”
The former nurse and midwife said that the lack of access to mental health services was one of the most common issues that people raised with her.
“Regional Australia has always had a shortage of mental healthcare, and the last two years have only made that worse. Our region has had terrible bushfires, a prolonged border closure, and the trauma of COVID-19, and yet we still have less access to mental health than our city cousins. It’s not good enough.”