Clinicians' perceptions of the Australian Paediatric Mental Health Service System: Problems and solutions

Kate Paton, Lynn Gillam, Hayley Warren, Melissa Mulraney, David Coghill, Daryl Efron, Michael Sawyer, Harriet Hiscock (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVES: Despite substantial investment by governments, the prevalence of mental health disorders in developed countries remains unchanged over the past 20 years. As 50% of mental health conditions present before 14 years of age, access to high-quality mental health care for children is crucial. Barriers to access identified by parents include high costs and long wait times, difficulty navigating the health system, and a lack of recognition of the existence and/or severity of the child's mental health disorder. Often neglected, but equally important, are clinician views about the barriers to and enablers of access to high-quality mental health care. We aimed to determine perspectives of Australian clinicians including child and adolescent psychiatrists, paediatricians, psychologists and general practitioners, on barriers and enablers within the current system and components of an optimal system.

METHODS: A total of 143 clinicians (approximately 35 each of child and adolescent psychiatrists, paediatricians, child psychologists and general practitioners) from Victoria and South Australia participated in semi-structured phone interviews between March 2018 and February 2019. Inductive content analysis was applied to address the broad study aims.

FINDINGS: Clinician-identified barriers included multi-dimensional family factors, service fragmentation, long wait times and inadequate training for paediatricians and general practitioners. Rural and regional locations provided additional challenges but a greater sense of collaboration resulting from the proximity of clinicians in rural areas, creating an opportunity to develop support networks. Suggestions for an optimal system included novel ways to improve access to child psychiatry expertise, training for paediatricians and general practitioners, and co-located multidisciplinary services.

CONCLUSION: Within the current mental health system for children, structural, training and workforce barriers prevent optimal access to care. Clinicians identified many practical and systemic ideas to improve the system. Implementation and evaluation of effectiveness and cost effectiveness of these ideas is the next challenge for Australia's children's mental health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)494-505
Number of pages12
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number5
Early online date18 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • children
  • Health service use
  • mental health
  • qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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