Tasmania’s chief psychiatrist and four senior health service staff will spend nine days and at least $25,000 of taxpayer money next month in a bid to entice staff to the state — an exercise the union representing health workers has labelled “bizarre”, as public sector employees continue to butt heads with the Government over a pay rise.
In October 2017, two senior Tasmanian Health Service (THS) staff took a $31,000 taxpayer-funded, three-week trip to the UK to speak at employment expos.
The THS said 20 international nurses had been recruited in 2018 as a result of that representation.
Chief psychiatrist Aaron Groves said the upcoming expedition would be different.
“We plan to be interviewing people for current vacant positions rather than going to expos,” he said.
“This is people who will have applied for positions that we have in Tasmania that are vacant that we haven’t been able to fill with Australians for the best part of 12 months.”
Dr Groves said there were already 30 vacant mental health service positions in Tasmania, and the need for mental health nurses and psychiatrists would increase after a State Government commitment to expand mental health services.
Successful candidates would be offered relocation packages of up to about $10,000.
Nurses and other health workers have been locked in enterprise bargaining negotiations with the State Government for months.
Investment in local nurses the answer, unions say
Robbie Moore from the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) said he was shocked by the trip, and said the State Government and THS should invest in existing staff and retainment incentives.
“They would be a lot better off paying their staff competitive wages,” Mr Moore said.
“That’s how you attract staff into the mental health sector.
“We think they should also be trying to invest with the university and make sure that people are attracted to mental health through competitive wages and conditions.”
Dr Groves said there was an Australia-wide shortage of mental health nurses, and many of Tasmania’s mental health nurses were approaching retirement age.
“It’s not just a simple matter of what they’re paid, it’s a matter of how many they are and how many we’re training and whether they’re even available to be employed,” he said.
Emily Shepherd from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) said there were significant difficulties in recruiting mental health-trained nurses in Tasmania.
“Obviously our preference would be supporting Tasmanian nurses and growing our own mental health-trained nurses here, but in the interim while those nurses are undertaking formal training, that [UK recruitment] would be welcome in terms of having additional support.”
Ms Shepherd said the trip and relocation packages were a significant amount of money.
“We’d like to see similar amounts that are being offered for relocation for nurses to come and work in Tasmania be offered to Tasmanian nurses to specialise and undertake post-graduate qualifications in mental health,” she said.
Ms Shepherd said recruiting nurses from the UK was a short-term strategy.
“What we know from history is that often they do come to Tasmania and work here for a while, but traditionally we’ve seen that they then move on from Tasmania.”
Dr Groves said the THS had worked with the Department of State Growth on state-nominated skills visas.
“The visa requirements for skilled migrants under this approach require applicants to live and work in Tasmania for at least two years.”
The State Government spent $7.5 million on agency nurses last financial year, including flying them in from interstate to plug staffing gaps in the state’s hospitals.