Contrary views on mental health cuts

David Clark
David Clark
Some long-term Wakari Hospital mental health inpatients face an uncertain future in the community, which does not appear equipped to care for them if they are discharged in the coming months, Dunedin North MP David Clark says.

Dr Clark, who is the Labour Party's mental health spokesman, said a Southern District Health Board proposal to halve beds in a sub-acute ward was indicative of the reduced priority of mental health nationally.

''Lots of [the patients] have been there an incredibly long time, and they're expected to basically empty out in the next three months.''

Care in the community was provided by a less skilled workforce in which turnover was high because of stress and low pay, he said.

It was simply cost-cutting, he said; he would not object to patients being discharged if there were well-resourced services in the community, but this was not the case.

However, Kerry Hand, manager of Dunedin mental health needs assessment service Miramare and an advocate for community-based mental health, contacted the Otago Daily Times to support the move.

''I was surprised to see there are 35 staff involved at ward 11. ''That is more staff than the DHB funds into Central Otago-Queenstown Lakes, which has a population of 50,000 people.''

Mental health funding was too tied up in DHB-run services, and too centred on Dunedin.

There were hundreds of mental health workers in the South, he said, and the service received a decent amount of funding.

It would be more efficient if community-based organisations received a bigger chunk of funding to run more services, he believed.

''Mental health is changing. The future is one where services are used easily, and are an ordinary part of a community's resource.''

However, it is unclear whether the money saved by cutting bed numbers will be transferred to the community, given a $250,000 saving from reconfiguring the ward is listed on a cost-saving document released in November.

A spreadsheet released under the Official Information Act showed the ward 11 saving as part of a project to trim $15.6 million this financial year.

When it released details of the proposed cuts last week, the DHB said it would make a decision about funding additional resources in the community after listening to feedback from the formal consultation period, which closes on February 12.

The board wants to reduce ward bed numbers from 24 to 12 by the end of March.

Nearly 13 fulltime equivalent jobs would go, but the board has said all staff would be offered redeployment.

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