Forum debates workloads tool for mental health

Spotlight on key concerns of mental health nurses

The design and trial of a tool to measure workloads of mental health nurses was one of several issues discussed at a recent forum on mental health organised by the NSWNA.

Other subjects included mental health issues in aged care and violence and aggression in the workplace.

The most contentious discussion concerned the document National safety priorities in mental health: a national plan for reducing harm endorsed by the federal and state health ministers’ advisory council.

The document proposes that the use of seclusion and restraint should be eliminated or reduced ‘where possible’.

Nurses at the forum were concerned about the safety implications of this proposal and agreed it requires more consultation and discussion with frontline nurses. This document is available online at:

Brett Holmes, NSWNA General Secre-tary, and Debra Thoms, NSW Chief Nursing Officer, launched Stress Management for Nurses, a booklet containing useful exercises and tech-niques to help nurses manage stress at work.

Brett said the Association and NSW Health worked together successfully on the booklet and were exploring the possibility of developing a workloads tool for nurses in the mental health sector.

‘Nowhere else in the world has a tool been developed to adequately address the workload of mental health nurses. The NSWNA would like to produce one that will reflect the work you are being asked to undertake,’ Brett said.

‘In the meantime, it is important to remember that mental health nurses are still covered by Clause 53 of the award dealing with reasonable workloads for all public sector nurses.’

He highlighted the critical role mental health nurses play in the debate and discussion regarding the health care system and the federal government’s damaging changes to the industrial relations system.

‘We are living proof that unions such as ours have an important role to play in industrial relations, improving the working lives of nurses, and improving our health system and society,’ Brett said.

‘Each and every one of you should know that your conditions are being put under stress and strain from the federal government. It is important that nurses think of the big picture in the coming months about what is best for you as an employee and our society.’

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Helen Bailey, RN at Wyong RAFT  (rehabilitation assertive follow-up team) said she would like to see a workloads tool designed for mental health nurses.

‘I understand that a workloads tool in mental health would be the first of its kind in the world. While we might not come up with an ideal model, there has to be something for people to use,’ Helen said.

RN Samantha Johnstone, also of Wyong RAFT, agreed that workloads are one of the most pressing issues being discussed by nurses in the workplace.

‘The Association has conducted training and we are setting up a workloads committee at a local level. We aim to address some of the issues such as payments of allowances, skill mix and to develop a way to measure a reasonable workload to reflect the caseload of community mental health nurses,’ Samantha said.

Dianne Paul, CNS at Chatswood Community Mental Health, said: ‘It’s great that the NSWNA has organised this forum. It allows us to discuss issues of concern and it’s also a good opportunity to hear the different experiences of colleagues working in other areas of mental health such as aged care, drug and alcohol services, inpatient and community mental health.’

Donna Earsman, RN at RNSH, said more nurses need to be recruited to work in the mental health sector but in doing so management must recognise the need for experienced nurses to have more time to spend mentoring young and entry level nurses.

Donna felt that the discussion and debate on the reduction or elimination of seclusion use was ‘interesting’ and ‘it is a serious issue that the NSWNA membership needs to discuss in more detail.’

Judith Nicholas, RN at Northcourt Aged Care Facility, was motivated to attend the mental health forum for personal and professional reasons.

‘I’m interested in the growing need for mental health education and resources for nurses working in aged care. Aggression and violence towards other patients and staff are big issues in our sector.

I’m also interested in the role of carers in mental health because of my own experiences with my daughter who has schizophrenia and is currently in acute care.’