by Greta Yeoman
Further delays to the rollout of new mental health services has prompted a mixed response from South Canterbury advocates and representatives.
Last week, Health Minister David Clark announced a series of additional meetings with regional mental health organisations, health boards and people with personal experiences of mental health, to discuss plans for new frontline services announced in the Budget 2019.
However, this follows the wide-ranging Inquiry into Mental Health and Addictions consultation meetings last year, the release of the inquiry report in December 2018, and the then repeatedly delayed Government response to the report, which was finally released in May – just ahead of Budget 2019.
Many expected May’s “Wellbeing Budget” to be the start of the provision of new services, but Dr Clark announced additional meetings last week which would influence the localised rollout of services over the next five years.
Meetings between the Ministry of Health, district health boards, community mental health organisations and people with personal experiences of mental illness have been held in Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland.
More workshops are expected to be held in coming months, but their location and timeframe is not known.
The Courier asked four South Canterbury politicians and advocates for their thoughts on the additional delay.
Anglican Care social justice advocate Ruth Swale
Anglican Care South Canterbury social justice advocate Ruth Swale said the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction had been “so comprehensive” in its scope, it should have provided enough information to make decisions on the mental health system without the additional consultation.
“I don’t believe there is any need to delay, or to consult more widely, on what has already been clearly spelled out.”
She said the further delay by the Government at this point looked like “an unwillingness to commit to a course of action”, particularly as the Government had essentially agreed to it in its response to the inquiry report.
“They definitely just need to get on with it and make all of those recommendations a reality.”
(AMPSS 101) manager Jan Andrews
Addictions, Mental Health Peer Support Services (AMPSS 101) manager Jan Andrews said it was clear the Government was wanting to get input on any changes from the groups affected by the changes, but after the Budget 2019 announcement of the $455million for new services it was also about waiting to see “when they’re going to spend the money”.
Rangitata List MP Jo Luxton
Jo Luxton said the Government’s 2019 Budget had provided more than $1.9billion for mental health services, including $455million for a new, nationwide service.
The new workshops announced last week were about tailoring the services to community needs, as part of the national scheme, she said.
“We now have the funding required to create transformational change.”
“South Cantabrians are thankful that this Government is taking mental health seriously, and including our community’s voice in the process.”
“Each region’s reply was different and we are committed to seeing that difference reflected in this Government’s response.”
While she did not directly address whether the additional consultation was reasonable, or whether the public should have been able to expect that change would happen after the Government had released its views on the inquiry, and the Budget announcement, Ms Luxton expected South Canterbury residents would see “real action” occur “very quickly” following the new meetings.
“The resulting plan from these workshops will allow us to swiftly manage and implement this once in a lifetime opportunity to improve the mental health of New Zealanders successfully, and get it right for our region.”
Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon
Mr Falloon said it was “disappointing” the rollout of new services had been delayed, particularly as the Government had scrapped almost all of the 17 mental health initiatives the then-National government had put in place.
“It’s almost two years since the Labour-led Government took office and we haven’t seen much happen to replace those initiatives.”
He said National had stated it was “keen” to work with the Government over challenges regarding mental health and suicide.
“It’s a complex issue which nobody has all the answers on.”