11 May 2017

Labour would spend $43m on mental health teams

9:33 pm on 11 May 2017

The Labour Party will spend $43 million on specialist mental health teams if it wins this year's election, it says.

Labour leader Andrew Little

Labour leader Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Brad White

Labour leader Andrew Little made the announcement at a summit on primary health care at Parliament this morning.

He said mental health was in crisis, with those needing care unable to find the front door to stretched and fragmented services.

He told the Health Care Summit conference, held by the party at Parliament today, that if elected into government in September the party would spend $43m on a two-year pilot launch of specialist mental health teams.

"The message is overwhelming. There are huge gaps opening up in mental health service provision.

"People are missing out, and that is a problem not only today, but has the potential to create mch more serious problems in the future."

He said under the pilot, Labour would provide specialist teams in eight parts of the country.

One of those areas would be Christchurch, to help deal with nearly 40,000 people with mental health concerns, particularly following the devastating earthquakes there.

The teams would provide free, accessible help for those in need, working with GPs and the NGO sector to co-ordinate care.

Mr Little said figures showed one in six New Zealanders was diagnosed with a mental health issue in their lifetime.

He said there had been a 60 percent rise in people accessing mental health treatment since 2008, but spending had only risen by 28 percent.

Last week Health Minister Jonathan Coleman acknowledged that mental health had become a huge issue and said more needed to be done, but said Labour had copied their policy from others, and it was short on detail.

"Who's actually going to do this extra work. Where are they going to get the extra resources from," he said.

"All there is available publicly is a one-page sketch, but it's someone else's proposal so it doesn't seem that there's a lot of thought."

More GPs needed

Dr Tim Malloy

Dr Tim Malloy. Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Meanwhile, a GP leader told the summit that 50 new doctors were needed to allow primary care to keep up with the demands posed by a growing population.

College of General Practitioners chair Tim Malloy said most GPs were aged 50 or older, and many intended to retire within the decade.

He said many felt burnt out, but were increasingly busy managing populations boosted by 70,000 immigrants.

Urgent action was required, he said.

"[We need] 50 new doctors. We're not producing any more new doctors over and above that which we need to replace ourselves - which we're not actually meeting yet."

He said since 2006 the value of capitation - the government's contribution to GP fees - had fallen by $47m in real terms.

He said he had seen a lot of "tinkering" but no real gains in primary care.