National mental health report 2013

Size and composition of the Australian Government funded primary mental health care and private hospital workforce

Page last updated: 2013

There is a significant workforce of mental health professionals delivering services in primary mental health care settings and in private hospitals. This workforce has grown over time as a result of a range of factors, most notably the introduction of the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule initiative ('Better Access', described in more detail at 2.5). Better Access introduced a series of new item numbers on the Medicare Benefits Schedule which provided a rebate for mental health care services delivered by eligible providers, expanding the MBS-funded services provided by general practitioners and psychiatrists and introducing services provided by psychologists and other allied health professionals. Other programs have also contributed to an expansion of this workforce, including the Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) program introduced in 2002 which enables general practitioners to refer consumers to allied health professionals, through Medicare Locals. Additionally, the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program (MHNIP) was introduced in 2006 and provides a non-MBS incentive payment to community based general practices, private psychiatrist services, Divisions of General Practice, Medicare Locals and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Services who engage mental health nurses to assist in the provision of coordinated clinical care for people with severe mental disorders.

It is not possible to quantify the exact magnitude of workforce growth associated with these initiatives, because comprehensive figures on workforce numbers in the early years are not available. However, estimates for 2010-11 exist and are shown in Table 4. It should be noted that these estimates are conservative because they only include selected programs (Better Access, ATAPS and MHNIP) and providers. They exclude initiatives such as headspace and certain providers (notably general practitioners who are key providers of primary mental health care) for which reliable mental health specific workforce estimates are not yet available. Table 4 shows that 3,119 full-time equivalent mental health professionals provided services through Australian Government funded primary mental health care initiatives in 2010-11. The majority of these (1,928 or62%) were psychologists. The next largest professional group was psychiatrists (817 or 26%).

Table 4 also shows the size of the workforce of mental health professionals working in private hospitals in 2010-11. Again, these figures are an underestimate because they do not include psychiatrists and other medical practitioners with admitting rights who are funded on a fee for service basis through the Medicare Benefits Schedule. In total, 1,517 full-time equivalent mental health professionals were employed in private hospitals in 2010-11. Of these, 1,165 (77%) of these were nurses and 310 (20%) were allied health professionals.

Overall, 4,635 full-time equivalent mental health professionals provided services through Australian Government funded primary mental health care initiatives and in private hospitals in 2010-11. This is around one fifth of the size of the workforce employed in state and territory mental health services (23,232), reported in Table 3. Top of page

Table 4: Health professional direct care workforce (FTE) in Australian Government funded primary mental health carea,b and private hospitalsc, 2010-11

Table 4 is presented as lists in this online version. It is a single table in the PDF version.
MBS and other Australian Government funded primary mental health care:
  • Psychiatrists - 817
  • Mental health nurses - 240
  • Psychologists - 1,928
  • Other allied health professionals - 134
  • Total - 3,119
Private hospitals:
  • Medical professionals - 42
  • Nurses - 1,165
  • Allied health professionals - 310
  • Total - 1,517
Total - 4,635

a Excludes general practitioners because their numbers cannot be accurately estimated
b Excludes providers funded through the Department of Veterans Affairs, or providers offering services through headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation
c Excludes psychiatrists and other medical practitioners with admitting rights who work in private hospitals on a fee for service basis through the Medicare Benefits Schedule.