This chapter has described the characteristics of the allied and medical mental health occupations in the Better Access workforce. This was accomplished by providing estimates of the numbers for each occupation in the potential Better Access workforce, providing a summary description of each occupation and then comparing characteristics across Better Access occupations.

Better Access allied mental health workforce
Better Access medical mental health workforce
Better Access workforce

Better Access allied mental health workforce

Due to the absence of comprehensive data on the allied mental health workforce, the size of the potential Better Access allied mental health workforce was estimated using a variety of data sources. The method used to make these calculations was detailed in the chapter, with the estimates provided being the most accurate given the data limitations.

Table 2.18 provides a summary of the size of the potential and actual Better Access allied mental health workforce. Psychologists comprised the largest allied mental health occupation in both the potential and actual Better Access allied mental health workforce. It was estimated that in 2006 there were 9,088 psychologists in the potential Better Access workforce. By 2008, there were 8,088 psychologists providing an average of 269 services per provider, equating to 4 hours 17 minutes per week. Of the two psychology provider categories, clinical psychologists provided an average of 343 services per provider in 2008, equating to 5 hours 37 minutes per week; while registered psychologists provided an average of 200 services per provider in 2008, equating to 3 hours 52 minutes per week. It was noted that in 2008 1,181 clinical psychologists provide both Focussed Psychological Strategies and Psychological Therapy Services.

Although the potential number of social workers in 2006 was estimated to be 3,981, data provided by the AASW indicated that the number of accredited mental health social workers was much smaller (although increasing rapidly). In 2006 there were 150 accredited mental health social workers, rising to 839 by 2008. The 646 social workers in the actual Better Access workforce in 2008 provided an average of 159 services per provider, equating to 2 hours and 29 minutes per week.

While occupational therapists were the smallest Better Access allied mental health occupation, at 6,412 the estimated potential workforce (2006) was larger than that of social workers. By 2008, 172 OTs were providing Better Access services, averaging 123 services per provider. This equated to 1 hour and 54 minutes per week.
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Table 2.18 Size of the potential and actual Better Access allied mental health workforce

Estimated potential 2006*Actual 2006Actual 2007Actual 2008
Psychologists
9,088
3,688
6,858
8,088
Social workers
3,981
126
489
646
Occupational therapists
6,412
23
115
172

* Note: Estimates used here are the weighted ABS number in each occupation working in the health industry (excluding residential care and social assistance services)
Source: Table 2.3, Table 2.4, Table 2.6, Table 2.7, Table 2.9, Table 2.10

Better Access medical mental health workforce

In calculating the size of the potential Better Access medical mental health workforce, Provider data from Medicare was used. Table 2.19 provides a summary of the size of the potential and actual Better Access medical mental health workforce.

The actual Better Access GP workforce was comprised of a high proportion of the potential workforce rising from 35% in 2006 to 87% in 2008. Although there was wide engagement with Better Access, the extent to which individual GPs provided services was much lower than that of any of the allied mental health occupations. On average, GPs provided 63 services per provider in 2008 – equating to 28 minutes per week.

By 2008, approximately 53% of psychiatrists were providing Better Access services. The 1,688 psychiatrists in the actual Better Access workforce in 2008 provided an average of 63 services per provider, equating to 54 minutes per week.

Table 2.19 Size of the potential and actual Better Access medical mental health workforce

Estimated potential 2006Actual 2006Estimated potential 2007Actual 2007Estimated potential 2008Actual 2008
GPs
22,641
12,064
23,698
19,863
24,593
21,324
Psychiatrists
2,877
1,086
2,989
1,518
3,123
1,608

Source: Table 2.12, Table 2.13, Table 2.15, Table 2.16

Better Access workforce

In comparing the characteristics of the occupational groups within the Better Access workforce, it was evident that there was broad similarity between the potential and actual workforce. Two points of difference stand out: the actual Better Access workforce was slightly older, and more likely to be working outside of the major metropolitan areas than health professionals in the potential workforce. Both of these could have implications for workforce planning, although further analysis of the reasons for the differences would need to be undertaken.

There were differences in the distribution of the actual Better Access workforce across the states/territories. As this reflected a similar distribution in the potential Better Access workforce, it is probable that the differences are the result of the specific policy context within each jurisdiction.

While the allied mental health workforce provided a far greater number of services per provider than GPs or psychiatrists, the overall number of services and time spent providing Better Access services for any of the allied mental health occupations comprised only a small fraction of an average workload for each of the Better Access occupations. Even clinical psychologists, the provider group with the highest rate of Better Access service provision spent, on average, just over 5 hours per week per provider on Better Access Items.