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Southern Adelaide mental health services 'overloaded' and 'unsafe'

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SA Health managers have asked social workers who haven’t finished training in youth mental health to treat child patients, unions claim, as an apparent workload crisis in southern Adelaide deepens.

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Unions representing social workers and mental health nurses say members of the adult mental health team in the southern area lack adequate youth training, but have been asked to take on all new mental health referrals for people aged 16-25 in the area.

SA Health says the youth service is still taking new referrals but the unions say both the adult and youth teams are struggling under unsafe caseloads.

The nurses’ union has launched work bans in response to what it says is an ongoing workload crisis for both youth and adult mental health services in the southern area.

Adult mental health teams there had been directed to accept mental health patients aged 19-25 in late 2017, but have now been asked to take on clients from the youth team’s full age bracket, between 16 and 25.

According to the Public Service Association, Southen Adelaide Local Health Network management sent a directive to the adult team yesterday, instructing it to take on new referrals of clients as young as 16.

The union is concerned about the capacity of the youth mental health clinicians to provide a safe service under their current workload, but it is equally concerned about the ability of clinicians not fully trained to treat young people to pick up the slack.

“The PSA is concerned about youth mental health clinicians and their capacity to provide safe youth mental health care when they do not have adequate numbers of youth mental health-trained staff,” PSA SA general secretary Nev Kitchin told InDaily.

“However, the PSA is also concerned about the flow-on impact these workloads will have on the adult mental health team when they are already working with unsafe and unsustainable workloads themselves.”

The union says it has been advised that the CEO of the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network and the southern community mental health managers have called an meeting today to respond to the PSA’s concerns.

Earlier this month, the nurses’ union, the ANMF, initiated work bans affecting more than 20 nurses at the Inner South Community Mental Health Centre.

The work bans were called after the union deemed that there had been “no meaningful action” taken by management to address “urgent workload concerns”.

The work bans were called off on Thursday last week but union members will consider re-launching the bans at a meeting today.

According to a letter sent by ANMF SA CEO Elizabeth Dabars to Southern Adelaide Local Health Network management in June, there have been regular failures to backfill staff on leave in the service, and that “members assert that they are no longer able to take on extra clients/caseloads to support their colleagues away on leave, as they themselves are at capacity”.

“(There) are often gaps and unfilled shifts on the roster even before the roster has commenced,” the letter says.

“Recruitment to vacant positions takes several weeks … with management reporting six or seven steps to the recruitment process.

“It is known for several weeks when staff are being seconded to temporary positions, however, the position is not filled for weeks after they leave.”

Southern Adelaide Local Health Network acting clinical director of mental health services Dr Michael Nance told InDaily this afternoon that the youth mental health service in the south “is continuing to take referrals and we would like to reassure our consumers and their families that the safety and wellbeing of our consumers is paramount and is always prioritised according to clinical need”.

“While we’ve had some staff move on to work in other mental health services, a recruitment process was undertaken and we are expecting new staff to commence next week.

“Interim staffing arrangements are in place to ensure safe staffing levels for the service.”

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