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Psychologists’ strike highlights need for sustaining the workforce

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists (NZCCP) says that the continuing partial strike by 600 psychologists working in DHBs around New Zealand highlights the need to ensure we have a sustainable psychological workforce in the health sector.

"My discussions with DHB psychologists indicate that they are very reluctant to strike because of the impact on clients and the teams they work with, but feel it is necessary or we risk losing the ability of already-limited psychological services to meet the vital needs of people in New Zealand," comments Malcolm Stewart, President of the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists.

DHBs around the country are losing psychologists fast and are unable to fill vacancies. This leads to long waiting lists for psychological assistance for clients. Recent research showed the average waiting time for an appointment with a psychologist in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service was 11 weeks, with some services taking much longer. The average time to see a psychologist in an Adult Mental Health Service was 15 weeks. For many clients, waiting this long is a substantial risk to their wellbeing, safety, and recovery.

Psychologists are in high demand by a range of other social service sectors, such as Oranga Tamariki, Corrections, and ACC, with pay and conditions in these other sectors often seen as preferable. Additionally, around 40% of psychologists work part- or full-time in private practice. This means there is substantial competition for the psychology workforce.

A shortage of Māori and Pasifika psychologists in all sectors is of particular concern, given that they are frequently important to ensure that the needs of Māori and Pasifika people, who are high users of many services, are well addressed.

Recent research undertaken by the Psychology Workforce Task Group identified work stress, non-competitive salary, and organisational practices that did not support effective clinical work as amongst the major reasons for psychologists leaving the health sector.

"A fundamental difficulty is that we simply don’t have enough psychologists in New Zealand to meet the need. The professional organisations and employers are working with the Ministry of Health and representatives of other ministries to address this in the longer term, but in the shorter term ensuring that employment conditions are such that we can maintain a sustainable psychology workforce in the DHBs and the health sector is vital."

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