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Psychologists ready to continue health board strike action

Health board psychologists, including at Hauora Tairawhiti, have turned down a new offer from their employer and are voting on whether to go back on strike later this month.

The approximately 600 psychologists “overwhelmingly” rejected the offer, said Association of Professional and Executive Employees (APEX) union advocate Omar Hamed.

Psychologists have been conducting partial strikes over the past three months. They want to close the salary gap with other state sector employers of psychologists and are seeking a commitment from health boards to employ one psychologist for every 5000 people living in the region.

Wendy Tyghe, a Hauora Tairawhiti psychologist, said psychologists had only been seeing two face-to-face clients a day as part of a partial strike, but that had ended at the end of October.

Balloting over whether to strike again closes on Tuesday.

“These strikes would likely be a mix of partial strikes as well as one-day strikes,’’ she said.

“Strikes are planned to include seven-day partial strikes — not attending multi-disciplinary team meetings providing consultation, and not providing psychometric testing.

“Further one-day partial strikes are planned to continue on a regular basis.”

Mrs Tyghe said health board psychologists were striking to strengthen service delivery in mental health into a robust workforce.

“We are unable to do that at health boards when we lose psychologists to the private sector.”

There were three full-time equivalent (FTE) psychologists at Hauora Tairawhiti, or one per 17,000 people.

APEX wanted to increase that to an international standard of one per 5000, which equates to 10 positions at Hauora Tairawhiti.

That level of staffing would provide support for medical conditions, adult mental health, and infants, child, and adolescent needs.

Mrs Tyghe has been at Hauora Tairawhiti for four years.

She says in that time, 11 psychologists have left, with eight going into the Gisborne private sector, ACC and other local services.

Better staffing levels were required, “absolutely”.

Salary parity with other sectors such as ACC and private practice was needed “to stem the haemorrhaging of psychologists from the health boards”.

“The importance of psychological service in the public health sector heath is that we provide a comprehensive service that includes consultation and liaison with schools — observation of children in schools, in the classroom, in the playground, at home — and it includes services for people with chronic disability, mental health disability and addiction.

“That’s different from the private sector,” Mrs Tyghe said.

“Our services are easily accessible and comprehensive.”

Clinical psychologists were able to diagnose.

‘They provide scientific assessments to determine a profile of strengths and difficulties as a way of looking at treatment options across a range mental issues like foetal alcohol syndrome disorder, specific learning difficulties and complex presentations of trauma.

“Psychologists are trained in evidence-based treatments that specifically target difficulties, once diagnosed.”

These treatments can be brief or long-term.

“Clients who endure chronic mental health difficulties should be able to have access to public services without having to pay for them.”