Question without notice: My question is for the Minister for Mental Health. Minister, during the consultations conducted by the royal commission into mental health we heard many stories of the shocking lack of services available for those seeking help. This was particularly the case for those living in regional areas and was highlighted by the two speakers yesterday sharing their lived experience, both of whom had attended regional hospitals and not received the help that they needed. One of the most critical problems facing regional health services is their ability to attract the professional mental health workers required, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nurses. Minister, how do you propose this long-term entrenched workforce problem can be addressed to ensure that regional people can get access to appropriate mental health services when and where they need them and from appropriately trained people?
Mr MERLINO (Monbulk—Minister for Education, Minister for Mental Health): I thank the member for Shepparton for her very important question and her ongoing passion for improving mental health not only in her electorate of Shepparton but across rural and regional Victoria. As we know, the final report of the royal commission recommends a complete rebuilding of our mental health system with the fundamental aim of helping people in their community early rather than too late in hospitals. The member is absolutely right to refer to both Al and Amelia’s contributions yesterday. That reform will take time, and we know that having a strong and sufficient workforce will be absolutely crucial in realising the commission’s vision for reform. The commission’s final report recognises that the workforce is the beating heart of the Victorian mental health system. We know that mental health shortages are particularly pronounced in rural and regional areas, and I will just give you one stat, member for Shepparton, out of the royal commission final report. It states that in 2017–18 there were 15.6 psychiatrists per 1000 people in metropolitan Melbourne in contrast to 8.4 in periurban and regional areas and 5.6 in rural areas.
Reflecting the importance of the workforce, the royal commission set out a number of recommendations that go directly to the member’s question about promoting a strong and sustainable future workforce. They include a recommendation around a new workforce strategy and implementation plan to be in place by the end of this year, so there is immediate work that will happen; developing a Victorian mental health and wellbeing workforce capability framework as a matter of urgency; and using the new Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing to coordinate learning and professional development activities across the whole mental and wellbeing workforce. This will build on the interim report and its recommendations and what the government has done, including around a peer workforce, new scholarship placements and training places for nurses, allied health professionals and junior doctors. In last year’s budget $870 million was in large part responding to the interim report. We have already created 29 junior medical officer psychiatry rotations, 80 new mental health nursing graduate roles. In July we will open 140 new nurse scholarships and create 20 lived experience cadetships. Most critically, recommendation 40 in the report talks about the need to create a new mental health workforce rural incentive scheme, and the Premier and I both talked about this yesterday and in other parts of government, whether it is in education, in early childhood, having those incentive schemes to ensure we have the workforce that we need. The final thing I will say is the Premier observed yesterday that it is very hard to attract and retain staff in a system that is in crisis, in a system that is broken. Accepting all the recommendations, investing in mental health will deliver career pathways for people in Victoria.
Supplementary Question without notice: Minister, the Rural Workforce Agency Victoria is a commonwealth-funded body that operates in Victoria to assist in attracting workforce to regional areas in Victoria. Can you explain how your government works with this agency to ensure that that funding is actually directed into getting specialists into our regional areas?
Mr MERLINO (Monbulk—Minister for Education, Minister for Mental Health): I thank the member for her supplementary question. The Rural Workforce Agency Victoria works directly
with rural and regional health services and community GPs to support recruitment of locums, including GPs, who provide services in public health services. My department has contracted Rural Workforce Agency Victoria to administer a range of programs—in fact the department has done that since about 2001—to ensure a pipeline of qualified medical staff throughout the regions.
Victoria also contributes to this body, so in the last budget $887 000. It collaborates with the department on workforce issues by participating in two advisory committees: the medical workforce planning advisory group, which provides advice to the department on specific matters affecting Victoria’s medical workforce, including opportunities to expand medical training in rural and regional locations; and the statewide reference committee, which oversees and monitors the establishment of the Victorian rural generalists. I will work with this body, raise the issues, raise the findings and recommendations out of the royal commission. They will be part of responding to the royal commission’s recommendations.