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Psychiatrists’ burning out, leaving patients at risk 


Nine in 10 NSW psychiatrists are experiencing burnout, with workforce shortages now risking patient care.  

In a nationwide survey conducted by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, psychiatrists reported high pressures and a mounting NSW mental health system has left 74% experiencing multiple symptoms of burnout in the past three years. 

Sadly, it also revealed 30% of NSW’s psychiatrists are considering leaving the profession in the next five years. 

The RANZCP is responsible for training, educating and representing psychiatrists in Australia and New Zealand.

Of the 367 psychiatrists it surveyed in NSW, 80% said they felt exhausted and drained all the time in the past three years. 

While 82% said workforce shortages and inadequate staffing are contributing to burnout amongst psychiatrists, 78% said it was under resourcing of the mental health system and 69% said workloads and increasing complexity of mental health presentations was to blame. 

Previous Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) data has indicated that there are as few as zero psychiatrists in many very remote parts of NSW, causing a big gap in mental health service delivery for communities in the bush. 

Chair of the NSW branch of the RANZCP Dr Angelo Virgona said the findings underscored the severity of the workforce shortage crisis in the state’s mental health system.   

“There is a critical and chronic shortage of psychiatrists in NSW,” she explained.   

“It is not just the public sector where there has been an ongoing drain of psychiatrists, but also the private sector, with closed books and long waiting lists. 

“Private hospitals provide about half the admissions for mental health disorders in Australia, but many are currently at risk of closure due to psychiatry shortages. 

“As a result, patients are having to navigate an overburdened mental healthcare system and are often met with closed doors everywhere.  

“The system is so fragmented that you have to be a genius or lucky to figure out how and where to get help. 

“Some of our most vulnerable people with acute mental illnesses then fall through the cracks because help is too far away, too long a wait, too expensive or, for people in the bush, simply unavailable. 

“And, the workforce shortage has placed an unsustainable burden on psychiatrists in the system. Hence the burn-out as seen in our survey. 

“We don’t have time to liaise with other health providers, and patients can’t access enough of the therapy they need due to cost or lack of practitioners.  

“It’s a lottery system, but accessing lifesaving, vital mental healthcare should not be.” 

Dr Virgona said the Federal and NSW Government needed to work together to ensure that the mental health services in NSW are adequately resourced, with targeted and sustainable investment in the psychiatry workforce. 

“Good mental health is good for the economy, as evidenced by the Productivity Commission,” she added. 

“We’re calling on Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Minister for Health Mark Butler to invest in bolstering the mental health workforce in Australia’s most populous state, NSW, and its remotest corners.  

“In the 2024 Federal Budget, we’re expecting to see dedicated funding to improve the psychiatry workforce and training pipeline in the state, with incentives aimed at attracting and retaining people into the profession and in rural and regional areas. 

“Getting Australians the help they need, when they need it and where they need it from a skilled and well supported workforce, can go a long way in prevention and early intervention into mental health conditions. 

“With affordable and timely access to mental healthcare, rural communities can live their lives meaningfully and to their fullest,” Dr Virgona said. 

Ahead of the Federal Budget in May, the RANZCP is calling on the Federal Government to invest more than $35 million to attract and support the psychiatry workforce, as well as investing $6.95 million to extend the Military and Veteran Psychiatry Training Program from 2025 to 2028.  

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