National mental health report 2013

Employment of consumer and carer workers

Page last updated: 2013

Arguably, a stronger indicator of services' investment in consumer and carer participation is employing them in a paid role. In the early stages of the National Mental Health Strategy, consumer and carer consultants were employed as consultants to represent the interests of consumers and carers respectively, and to advocate for their needs. These consumer and carer consultants took on a variety of roles, including: investigating areas for improvement to local services, policy and procedures and advocating for change; participating in the selection of staff employed in local services; presenting consumer and carer perspectives in the evaluation of local services; and contributing to training programs for service delivery staff.

Consumers and carers valued this strategy as a means to promote services that are responsive to their needs, but argued that they had more to offer. As time went by, new roles for consumers and carers emerged. Some consumer and carer consultants had played a role in developing relationships with individual consumers and carers and communicating their needs to professional staff, and the new consumer and care workers took this further. 'Recovery workers' and 'peer support workers' emerged, and the people who took on these roles began to work directly with consumers and carers, offering them support and guidance based on their own lived experience of mental illness. Today, the consumer and carer workforce includes both consumer and carer consultants and the newer type of consumer and carer workers.

Since 2002‑03, mental health service organisations have been required to quantify the investments they have made in employing consumers and carers. To do this, organisations reporting that consumer and/or carer workers were employed in their organisations were required to provide substantiation, by reporting supplementary information on salary expenditure and numbers of full‑time equivalent staff employed. This was designed to avert the situation where mental health service organisations might, for example, report they had employed a paid consumer consultant if a consumer was given a one‑off payment for attending a meeting.

Figure 42 shows the national full‑time equivalent tally for consumer and carer workers employed in state and territory mental health services from the end of the Second National Mental Health Plan to the middle of the Fourth National Mental Health Plan (i.e., between 2002‑03 and 2010‑11). The number of full‑time equivalent consumer workers has fluctuated over time, but was at its lowest at 54 in 2002‑03 and reached a peak at 69 in 2010‑11. The number of carer workers began at a lower base rate but has risen steadily and, in 2010‑11, reached about two thirds of the number of consumer workers. In absolute terms, the numbers of consumer and carer workers is still very low.

Another way of thinking about this is to consider the proportion of the total direct care workforce (clinical staff and consumer and carer workers) in state and territory mental health services that is accounted for by consumer and carer workers. Figure 43 shows that the number of consumer and carer workers employed in 2002‑03 was 3.5 per 1,000 full‑time equivalent direct care staff. By 2010‑11, this had risen to 4.6 per 1,000. Although this represents a 33% increase, the penetration of consumer and carer workers into the overall workforce remains small.

The Fourth National Mental Health Plan advocates for substantial growth in the consumer and carer workforce and includes a specific indicator to monitor the extent to which this is occurring (Indicator 21). More detail about this indicator is provided in Part 3 of the current report.

Figure 42: Number of full-time equivalent consumer and carer workers employed in state and territory mental health services, 2002-03 to 2010-11

Refer to the following table for a text equivalent of Figure 42: Number of full-time equivalent consumer and carer workers employed in state and territory mental health services, 2002-03 to 2010-11

Text version of figure 42

Carer workersConsumer workers
2002-03 End 2nd plan
9
54
2003-04
9
60
2004-05
14
55
2005-06
15
61
2006-07
23
57
2007-08 End 3rd plan
27
64
2008-09
31
65
2009-10
27
65
2010-11 Mid 4th plan
43
69
Top of page

Figure 43: Consumer and carer workers employed per 1,000 full-time equivalent direct care staff, 2002-03 to 2010-11

Refer to the following table for a text equivalent of Figure 43: Consumer and carer workers employed per 1,000 full-time equivalent direct care staff, 2002-03 to 2010-11

Text version of figure 43

Carer workers (%)Consumer workers (%)
2002-03 End 2nd plan
0.05
0.30
2003-04
0.05
0.32
2004-05
0.07
0.29
2005-06
0.07
0.30
2006-07
0.11
0.27
2007-08 End 3rd plan
0.12
0.29
2008-09
0.13
0.28
2009-10
0.16
0.28
2010-11 Mid 4th plan
0.18
0.28