Nurse shortage in mental health

The public needs to understand the “knock-on effect” of understaffing in community mental health, says an experienced nurse.

“Our job is to remind the public that what we do is very important and when we can’t do it properly, everyone suffers,” says community mental health nurse Jeff Furolo.

Jeff is president of the Association’s Illawarra Shoalhaven mental health nurses’ branch and has worked as a community mental health nurse for most of his career.

He worries that forcing understaffed services to take on more and more patients is eroding the quality of patient care.

“Case managing mental health patients is very serious, time consuming work, with increasingly complex cases that other services cannot deal with, or do not want to deal with,” Jeff told The Lamp. “The time needed to look after mental health patients in the community has grown over the past 10 to 15 years, partly because of more onerous documentation requirements.

“Despite this we are expected to take on more cases, meaning patients don’t get the care they need in a timely fashion, or their care may be interrupted.”

Jeff says the challenge is to explain to the public that, as a result, there are worse outcomes – not only for patients but for many others in the community.

“We nurses don’t like saying ‘no’ to the people who need us so eventually we burn out and sometimes even leave the service. That’s bad for the staff who remain and the service as a whole.”

This has a knock-on effect for families, carers, police and ambulance services and hospital emergency departments.

“The shortage of community mental health nurses pushes the responsibility for care onto people who are less capable of managing it.”

The NSWNMA’s current statewide television advertisements, one featuring a community nurse, are laying a platform for local nurses to raise the profile of community nursing in the Illawarra/Shoalhaven district, Jeff says.

“I think the TV ads are fantastic. I’m tremendously proud to be a member of this professional, effective and concerned union.

“The big thing we have going for us is that nurses are very well regarded and people know that we really do care. But we will need as many community nurses as possible to pitch in, for this campaign to work.”