4 May 2017

Govt embarks on five-year plan to improve mental health services

4:53 pm on 4 May 2017

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has defended the embattled mental health system today, saying it is facing high demand.

Jonathan Coleman

Jonathan Coleman Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

His comment came as he announced a new national improvement programme in mental health, which would target this country's overly high use of seclusion and other restrictive practices, and seek to standardise the medications prescribed for those with mental health conditions.

He said the five-year programme, costing $7.5 million, which would come from district health board baseline funding, would also seek to improve processes for transferring patients in and out of services.

It would help the sector learn from mistakes and complaints, and build on the Equally Well programme to improve the overall physical health of people with mental health and addiction problems.

Dr Coleman said the programme - largely based on the successful Scottish Patient Safety Programme, and work done by the well-known Institute of Healthcare Improvement - would be reviewed after the first three years.

He said there would be more money in the forthcoming Budget for mental health. But he stressed it would be as part of a broad government social investment approach, in addition to the work already under way by a significant cross-government programme to improve the mental health of New Zealanders.

"We are looking to improve alignment of [the] government's response across the board. We want our health, justice, education and welfare systems to work in an integrated way to promote mental health and do more to prevent mental illness arising."

Growing demand, still not enough access

Dr Coleman said over the past decade demand for secondary mental health and addiction services had increased from 2.3 percent of the population to 3.6 percent - from around 96,000 people to almost 168,000 people.

"We know there are many people who might need help for a mental health issue, but who aren't accessing the services available. For example, around 60 percent of the people who die by suicide in New Zealand each year have not interacted with a mental health or addiction service in the previous 12 months."

He said there had been significant investment in mental health services since 2008/9, with funding increasing by 18 percent from $1.1 billion to $1.4bn last year.

He said workforce well-being was a focus, and over the past five years the number of registered nurses working in mental health and addiction services had increased from 3583 to 4206. The number of full-time equivalent psychiatrists employed across DHBs had increased by well over 100 over the past eight years.

But Dr Coleman said a transformational change has been under way, moving from an institutional model of mental health care to one where most people with problems received treatment in the community.

'Band-aids'

The Public Service Association said Dr Coleman's response to the mental health crisis showed no understanding about the topic or its seriousness.

"There are a few band-aids in Dr Coleman's first aid kit, but nothing to address the growing demand and the massive unmet need in the system," the union's national secretary, Erin Polaczuk, said.

She added that the PSA was sceptical about the "highly targeted nature of other social investment programmes put in place by this government".

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