Perth Children’s Hospital staff to walk off job over lack of resources for kids struggling with mental health

Wednesday 24 Mar 2021

Originally published in The West by Annabelle Hennessey 

More than 100 mental health workers including those at Perth Children’s Hospital plan to walk off the job on Wednesday over what they say is inadequate resourcing for vulnerable children experiencing mental health crises.

Clinical psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists, among other allied health workers will take part in the walk-out which is set to take place at Perth Children’s Hospital mental health ward and Government-run Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

It comes after staff at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital held a stop-work earlier this month to express their disappointment at election commitments for children’s mental health.

Health Services Union WA Secretary Naomi McCrae, whose union organised the protest, said CAHMS clinics were at crisis point and staff were demanding that the government provide urgent funding for an additional 75 staff.

“We are alarmed at the significant continued risks the current system presents to vulnerable and at-risk children, adolescents and their families while this important, but lengthy, process takes place,” Ms McCrae said.

CAHMS clinics are meant to provide community treatment for young people experiencing serious mental health issues, including suicidality.

Young people discharged from hospital or refused admission are referred to CAMHS, plus those considered too “high risk” for services such as Headspace.

However staff working at clinics have told The West Australian they were so overrun with referrals they were not able to support young people with the support they needed.

One clinic in Perth had already been given 82 referrals already this month on top of their 122 existing patients.

This clinic usually had just 10 full-time staff and two part time staff.

Last year 13-year-old Kate Savage died from self-harm injuries she inflicted just minutes after leaving a CAMHS appointment.

A review of her care by Chief Psychiatrist Nathan Gibson recommended the WA Government “immediately uplift the clinical workforce in Community CAMHS”.

Ms McCrae said this recommendation had not been properly acted on and a ministerial taskforce set up to look into the issues with CAMHS would “take at least a year or more to finalise”.

“These centres can’t wait that long, they are at crisis point and need action from the WA Government now,” she said.

AMA WA president Dr Andrew Miller said his members supported the industrial action and were experiencing the same issues.

He said many psychiatrists working in CAHMS clinics said they felt they were delivering a “substandard service” because of lack of resourcing and were experiencing “mental distress” themselves over the situation.

Last week Deputy of the National Mental Health Commission Lyndall Soper told a parliamentary hearing they had received reports about a shortage of child psychiatrists in WA.

“The challenges, particularly in WA that were put to us, that there’s so few of them that every single interaction with clients and the public was really intense, so that just caused this incredible stress and burnout,” Ms Soper said.

Newly appointed WA Mental Health Minister Stephen Dawson said he wanted to work collaboratively with the HSU so said he was "disappointed that they have planned industrial action before they could have a meeting with me to discuss these issues firsthand".

"The McGowan Government is in the middle of a comprehensive and strategic approach to youth mental health and, as Minister Cook said last year, the Government will be focusing on improving mental health outcomes for children as a priority over the next year," he said.

"The Child and Mental Health Taskforce will not take a piecemeal approach to the issue but will outline a comprehensive plan for the future."

"I am committed to improving WA’s public mental health services for our children and adolescents so we can provide the best available support and care".

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