Govt to tackle three-year mental health care backlog - Little

NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Tue, 17 May 2022, 9:13am

Govt to tackle three-year mental health care backlog - Little

NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Tue, 17 May 2022, 9:13am

Health Minister Andrew Little has unveiled plans to tackle a lengthy backlog in treatment for mental health issues.

Little said he would put Health NZ and the Māori Health Authority in charge of dealing with the backlogs that otherwise would three years or more to clear.

"It's my expectation we can clear the backlog in significantly less time than that."

Little said central to his plan was a new national approach to specialist appointments.

For too long people had received inconsistent levels of care, Little told a Christchurch gathering.

"We have one public health system and I expect it to work together to make sure people get the treatment they need no matter what part of the country they're in."

Little said there was serious pressure on facilities for people with acute mental illnesses.

Some people needed different types of support but could not go anywhere else, he said.

"They don't have anywhere to put them so they end up staying in the wards."

He said about $27 million would be invested in addressing this problem by making more acute services available.

Another $90 million would go to youth mental health services, he said.

Little said about 1300 young people would be able to access services under the new plans.

Little also today announced that the Mana Ake programme for mental health services in schools would get a $90 million package to extend it to Northland, Counties Manukau, Bay of Plenty and the Lakes and West Coast regions.

The programme started in Canterbury and Kaikōura to help children with mental health issues after the Christchurch earthquakes, and will continue to operate in those regions.

Little said the expansion would mean 195,000 primary and intermediate school students could benefit from it.

He said the school-based programme gave children support to deal with issues such as grief, loss, parental separation and bullying, as well as guidance for parents, whānau and teachers.

"We know that early intervention is one of the best ways we encourage better mental wellbeing for young New Zealanders and through their lives. Mana Ake empowers children with resilience and support, when and where they need it, to confidently cope with whatever life throws at them."

A $1.9 billion package for mental health in the 2019 Budget included $235m for building mental health and addiction facilities.

However, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission found this year that despite the investment and improvement in primary care, there had been little change in access to specialist mental health services.

Little put that down to increased demand and low investment in mental health under the former National government.

A review last year by the Government's Implementation Unit found other aspects of the mental health programme, such as integrating mental health and addiction services into GP practices, were progressing well. However, delivering on the infrastructure for mental health was lagging.

The Government had moved to try to fast track the process for DHBs building those facilities.

In March this year, the Government started a recruitment drive for mental health nurses.