23 Oct 2016

Young people wait months for mental health appointments

6:10 pm on 23 October 2016

Thousands of young people with mental health problems have long waits before they get follow-up appointments.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Figures released under the Official Information Act show 3297 young people, aged up to 19, had to wait longer than eight weeks for a second appointment with a medical professional last year.

The services vary widely around the country, with Rotorua, Taupo, the Hutt Valley and Canterbury among the areas with the longest waiting times.

The Lakes District Health Board had the longest waits, with 53 percent of the 209 young people seeking help not receiving their second face-to-face appointment within eight weeks.

In the Hutt Valley, 45 percent had to wait more longer than eight weeks and 37 percent in Canterbury.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said mental health services were struggling because of government cuts to the overall health budget.

He said no one should have to wait weeks on end to get the help they needed.

"For Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to believe it is fine for 26 percent of young people to wait more than eight weeks to get the help they need is just not good enough," he said.

Mr Shaw added that in the light of new figures about youth suicide, the waiting times needed to improve.

"New figures released by the coroner last week show that New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD."

He is calling for an urgent nation-wide mental health inquiry, similar to the 1988 Mason Report, to ensure all New Zealanders get adequate mental health support.

No need for an inquiry - Minister

But Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he didn't agree there was a need for an inquiry.

He said over the sector provided high quality mental health care, but did concede there was always more to do.

"Mental health remains a priority for the government. We are doing more - for example, Budget 2016 includes $12 million of funding over four years to increase support for people to access mental health services at an earlier stage.

Dr Coleman said the government had increased mental health and addiction services funding from $1.1 billion in 2008/09 to more than $1.4 billion for 2015/16.