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A decision to shift mental health programmes to Wakari Hospital prompted activists to chain themselves to a fence at Dunedin Hospital for several hours yesterday.
In June, mental health community day programmes will move from Dunedin Hospital to Helensburgh House at Wakari Hospital. Service users were not consulted. Activist Scout Barbour-Evans, speaking for users, said shifting the programmes would make them less accessible.
The Southern District Health Board would provide a shuttle service from Dunedin Hospital to Wakari Hospital.
Despite the free shuttle, it would be more difficult for service users to attend. Unfortunately, there was stigma attached to the Wakari Hospital site, where long-term wards were based.
There was too much centralisation of mental health services on the Wakari site. More than a year ago, the health board shifted another mental health support group to Wakari, the South Community Mental Health Team, and that service should be moved back to the community, Scout said.
The service used to operate in Princes St.
Scout, a Dunedin transgender and mental health activist, founded a group called Stop the Cuts to Southern Mental Health.
The activists got ‘‘awesome'' support from people walking past. At its peak, four activists were chained to the fence.
Mental health medical director Dr Bradley Strong told the Otago Daily Times the space where the programmes were held in the Psychiatric Services Building was required by the health board for an operational use.
Dr Strong said he felt confident the move would work once people were used to the change, and the Wakari site would be better suited to the service.
To accommodate the service, the board planned to renovate a floor in Wakari's Helensburgh House that was not used at present. The move affects about 35 service users.
‘‘Wakari's got a name. We can't get rid of that. I wish there was a way to erase stigma from the face of the planet, but there just isn't.''
More effort was also being put into community outreach and the long-term plan involved providing services closer to where people lived, Dr Strong said.
An example was the North Community Mental Health Team, which started running clinics at Student Health in February. The North Community Mental Health Team is based in the Fraser Building, and there are no plans at present to shift the group.